Is it in the cards?


By Peggy Fletcher Stack
October 26, 2002
Salt Lake Tribune

My Some believe that Tarot reading is a tool for discovery. As if it were not frightening enough for a sniper to kill unsuspecting suburbanites outside D.C.-area malls and gas stations, the murder reportedly taunted police with a Tarot Death card. On it, he scrawled: “I am God.”

Such symbolism was chilling. After all many see Tarot cards as vaguely blasphemous, bewitched or even darkly demonic.

The death card usually suggests a transition, or death to one phase of life, and the beginning of another, says Suzanne Wagner, a self-described psychic and tarot reader.

The sniper’s death card message may have been less an actual death threat than an attempt to shatter America’s sense of security and control, Wagner says, “It’s really a pot shot at our culture and ego.”

But misunderstanding is nothing new to Tarot devotees. Think Gypsies and turbaned fortunetellers with crystal balls and witchy fingernails.

“Tarot is simply a tool-you can use it for good or evil,” says Wagner, who eschews scarves and bangles for sweater sets and Levis. “Just like religions itself.”

The spread of cards suggests patterns and possibilities, not a road map to tan immutable destiny. Insights come in a circular, not linear, process.

” The key is how to take the truth and sort through its mishmash of metaphors,” says Wagner, a former dancer with Ballet West who works out of her home near downtown Salt Lake City.

Tarot reading has seen a resurgence in the 21st century, Christine Payne-Towler writes on, as evidenced by the dozens of varieties prominently displayed at the checkout counters of major bookstore chain. Tarot Web sites and chat rooms are proliferating.

Cards are sold throughout Utah and Mormons, Catholic, Protestants, Buddhists and Jews enjoy their secret treasures, Wagner says.

” Years ago, I would have people saying, “Don’t tell anyone I came here.” That doesn’t happen anymore.”

Looking for love? A reading begins with the shuffling of the 78-card deck, which consists of 22 major arcane” depicting allegorical images of different phases of life and 56 “minor arcane”. The minor arcane comprise the standard 52 cards in a regular playing card deck plus an extra card in each suit called the knight, which is placed between the jack-also called the page-and the queen.

The four suits in tarot cards are swords, wands, cups and pentacles; they became spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds in a modern deck.

A tarot reader’s client chooses cards from the deck. One may be the fool card, which is considered “The baby, ” a beginning, doing something new. Or it may be the magus card, which symbolizes learning, such as communication or a technical skill.

There’s a high priestess card, which represents the spiritual mothering, or intuition. The emperor is the father figure who offers the rules of the family.

The card with a figure of a pope suggests a person’s religious value system and cultural conditioning. The lover card shows the need to love others, to become compassionate.

There are also “shadow cards,” such as the hanged man and the devil.

These cards are not simple portents of future horrors, Wagner says, but tests of a person’s ability to withstand “struggles with strength and compassion, to hold fast to your values or fall.”

She tells a story about seeing the death of a child in a client’s cards, but also that good would emerge from the loss. She said that she told her client that the young person was an angelic guide who never intended to stay long on Earth, and that the death would help him recover a long-lost dream.

According to Wagner, with three weeks the man’s 4-year-old son was hit and killed by a car.

In his grief, her story continues, the man thought again and again of the tarot reading. Using insurance money from the accident, Wagner says, he returned to medical school as he has hoped to do before fate had taken him to a different, less meaningful career. He plans to be an emergency pediatric surgeon.

” Cards can give you warnings,” Wagner says. “But there’s always a positive in it, if you are willing to pay attention.”

Mysterious origins: Some say the symbolic cards can be traced to ancient Egypt and hold a kind of secret knowledge, like Jewish kabbalah or Christian gnosticism. Others say the lavishly painted cards had much more simple beginnings in 15th century royal courts of Italy in a card game known as tarocchi.

Whatever the reality, the mythic story can be compelling.

Wagner believes that the Knights Templar, a Christina military corps in the Crusades, found a “Book of Angels” that had survived the fire in the famed library of Alexandria, Egypt.

The knights feared they would be declared heretics if they brought it back, so they transferred the information into a card game with various archetypes.

At first the knights were decorated by the pope, but later they were tortured and killed as Cathar heretics who believed that Christ was a sexual being’s

The hanged man card, which is the angel in charge of redemption though sacrifice and suffering, was changed to look like the pope torturing a Cathar, Wagner says.

The use of tarot cards, especially for fortune-telling, was strongly condemned by the Catholic Church and is still discouraged by most Christian religions

” God makes clear that his people are not to consult with those who practice witchcraft, divination, interpret omens, or with sorcerers or even mediums,” writes Barrett Duke, vice-president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, public policy arm of the Southern Baptist convention, on

” So certainly use of Tarot cards would be inappropriate to those who follow God as he reveals himself in the Bible and through Jesus Christ” Duke writes.

Wagner believe the church had other motives-to be the sole source of prophecy, and thus to keep people paying tithes and offerings.

But the church could not stamp out popular interests in or artistic use of tarot cards.

William Butler Yeats, the poet and playwright of the Irish literary renaissance, incorporated tarot symbolism into his poem The Tower. The Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot, the Italian novelist Italo Calvino and German Artist Albrecht Durer, have all created works based on tarot imagery, says Payne-Towler.

Now even a murderer has found potency in the tarot symbols.


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