Occult Research Update #2: Tarot Edition

Occult Research Update #2: Tarot Edition

It's probably about time that I did another occult research update, and I specifically want to talk about Tarot today. I get asked about Tarot all the time because people notice that I'm fairly smart and rational and thorough and professionally successful AND I hold this belief that's pretty unusual for people with those attributes to hold.

Before I dive in, it may be useful for you to read both my first occult research post and Why I'm Interested in Magic(k) because they provide a little context on how I approach all of this.

While I'm still not sure if Tarot fits in the bucket of things I'd classify as "Magic(k)" at this point, it seems very likely to me that its mechanism of action (if we accept that it has one) shares traits in common with the same thing going on as with magick... But trying to classify buckets of occult interest is a topic for another post. This is already going to be long enough.

As you read this post, please suspend your disbelief at least enough to entertain the idea that any/all of this MIGHT be true because it'll save me a lot of words qualifying the claims I make. Just mentally append, "... assuming any of this is true and I'm not deluding myself" to every statement I make here and we can both be happy.

I've been quiet about the occult lately for a few reasons: First, I've been slammed all summer with work and other projects, and my occult hobby is priority #3-4 on my list. But second, I've slowly come to take the occult more and more seriously as I've read more and gone deeper.

This has given me serious pause, both in terms of how I approach learning about the occult and how much of it I want to share publicly.  If these tools actually work, there might be good reasons to maintain a fiction that they don't or at least make it harder for people to gain access to them... for the same reason you don't hand every passing rando a loaded gun or a live power tool.

Additionally, it's occurred to me that tampering with low level reality in my own life might not be ideal if things are already cruising along according to some kind of divine plan. This is a low-key belief I loosely hold in the goodness of the Universe in general. I haven't felt the urge to attempt much reality manipulation lately, because if it works, I don't know what else I might be mucking up that's intended for me. The cards tell me to tune into my spiritual side a lot lately. They rarely tell me to go manifest action.

Because of these concerns, I've basically ceased doing all Chaos Magic experiments and focused almost entirely on divination (with Tarot) as I've tried to laser in on one weird (fairly harmless) thing and try to understand it better. I want to know IF something weird is happening, and if so, HOW that weird thing could be happening.

At this point I'm pretty convinced something weird is happening with Tarot and that it may offer information about the near future, past, and present that's not easily accessible by my normal, conscious self.

It's very very difficult to persuade rational/normal/skeptical people of this observation. I'm happy that I've at least piqued the curiosity of enough smart friends who haven't been able to poke satisfying holes in my observations to conclude that I'm right... at least about something weird happening with Tarot, at least.

Objections and discrediting explanations I run into fall roughly into one of two buckets:

1. I'm fitting a story to the cards I pull and the same thing is happening her as with astrology horoscopes: over-broad narratives that could fit any situation in the correct light.

2. The observations are real but it's tapping some part of my brain I don't have conscious access to via sub-language symbolism to draw self-insight out into consciousness. It shouldn't be able to predict future events in this model.

For #1, I've thought about this a LOT because it seems like the most obvious trap to fall into. Am I deluding myself? Am I stitching together overly broad symbols that would fit any situation?

For over half a year I've kept that in my mind and continued experimenting with it to see, watching carefully for that. At this point I'm pretty sure that I'm not pattern-matching overly broad explanations that would fit any situation when I deal the cards.

To appreciate how this is different from something like your daily horoscope you have to learn a little about how Tarot works and how I do Tarot readings specifically. It's much, MUCH more specific than the astrology readings you'd find in a local newspaper.

A brief primer: There are 80 tarot cards in my deck (a Marseilles deck which relies less on imagery than the classic tarot you may have seen). Each card can be read in two possible ways depending on how it falls (straight or reversed). Each of these 160 possibilities have different, highly specific interpretations and associated meanings (or keywords, if you will).

I am not yet good enough to have memorized these all, so I tend to read the meanings verbatim once dealt from either the handbook that goes with my deck or Biddy Tarot. You can laugh at the name, but damn do they seem to nail the descriptions.

If you browse these descriptions, you'll see they have pretty specific meanings:

Ex1: The 10 of Swords indicates a painful and inevitable ending.

Ex2: The Chariot is about applying willpower, determination, and strength to achieve success.

Ex3: The 5 of Cups is about disappointment when a situation hasn't turned out as you expected.

Furthermore, when I deal the cards, I deal them into specific "slots" with meanings I declare ahead of time. Usually I'll declare the context of my reading within a specific domain or for a specific question (IE, "Love life" or "Finances" or "What should I do in X situation?") and then choose a spread that helps me answer what I want.

Often this will be a simple three-card spread with slots declared like 1) Past, 2) Present, 3) Future. My personal favorite is actually to do 1) Situation, 2) Influences, 3) Actions I should take. The point is that the slots get called ahead of time.

Then I do my little focusing ritual (more on focusing rituals some other time) and deal the cards with a clear mind. What I've observed is that cards turn up that accurately describe situations I'm reading on WAY more often than they should... almost every time, in fact.

You have to keep in mind that many tarot cards with their specific meanings wouldn't make sense if dealt randomly into slots like this for various situations when I have context on what the situation is.

It's going to be nearly impossible to persuade you skeptical people of this as a stranger on the internet no matter how many examples I offer. I don't blame you! I wouldn't have believed me either until I saw it for myself. Let me just talk about one example in particular I found highly personally persuasive, though.

Last week I did a private tarot reading for a stranger in a very difficult, highly sensitive situation with significant real world stakes (involving an abusive relationship). I was hesitant to do it at all because of how serious it was. But she asked and seemed to really need some help, so I read her cards and took it very seriously not knowing how else to help her.

I did Situation / Influences / Actions for her and flopped the Magician, Death Reversed, and the Nine of Swords... which read as her having the power to manifest change, being held back by attitudes that were no longer serving her, and a recommendation to reach out to friends for strength in doing what she had to do.

I got into a minor fight over this later with friend who told me I was being horribly irresponsible by reading tarot for her instead of directing her to resources for people in abusive situations, but I disagree. For one thing, I probably would have refused to give her the reading if I felt the cards recommended something I expected to harm her. For another, she was looking for guidance/encouragement/support, not something she could find in a Google search. And finally, the cards literally matched what I would have probably told her anyway (and is likely the right call for her based on what she told me).

"You know you're in an abusive situation. You have the power to get out even if its hard or painful. You need to let go of things that are holding you back. Now is the time to lean on friends for help."

My friend agreed that the cards had recommended the right course of action but was mad at me because they might not have. But... they did. As we were arguing about this, I decided to try another experiment on the phone with her.

I asked the deck to deal cards that would have been completely wrong for reading that situation instead to see what happened. Now I dealt a totally different three cards... and these were all about self-sacrifice, making allowances for loved ones and mending fences, and making things less about yourself.

If I had pulled these three cards for her, the obvious recommendation would have been to get over herself and to try to work things out with her abusive S/O. I would probably not have delivered this advice to her. But... that's not how the cards flopped.

And it WAS how the cards flopped when I asked them to demonstrate a bad reading for her.

There were other readings that could have popped which would have been muddled or made far less sense thematically in their structure. Reading a card for her about an exciting upcoming business deal for her situation and new love for her influences and self-deception for her action would have been much harder to read.

But that's not how either draw flopped.

Like... look. You HAVE to admit that's weird. That's weird, right?

And the thing is that by itself, it wouldn't be that weird. Coincidences happen. Maybe there's a little pattern match there. But I now have dozens and dozens of examples like this from the last year as I've been playing with Tarot. Once or twice is a weird coincidence. The number of times I've pulled objectively excellent cards for a given situation is... spooky.

When I draw enough times for my hard-line skeptic friends (which I'm happy to do), even they start to get shaky when the cards get spooky enough times.

And I have a good sense for probabilities with cards. I played Magic the Gathering for nearly twenty years. If I had drawn the right card combos into my hand (with multiples in a 60-card deck) as often as I draw the right tarot cards for a given situation, I'd be a tournament level MTG rockstar on the basis of luck alone. The cards just show up that fit the reading, and I don't understand why.

I don't think I'm deluding myself. Too much experimentation at this point. I have too many other examples.

That kind of invalidates the #2 objection from above too. Even if I were drawing random patterns and making sense of them with my subconscious, that shouldn't influence which cards fall. Nor would it make sense that the readings still work when I'm literally yanking their attributes off a website! There's no creative storytelling here. I deal the cards, I read the meanings verbatim from a fixed third party source. I do sometimes offer interpretations to guess how it might fit the situation that's been presented, but I mostly just leave it up to the recipient to make sense of.

If this hasn't yet persuaded you that something weird might be going on with Tarot, I'm not going to be able to persuade you of that via internet text. You'll have to go experiment yourself (like I did) and draw your own conclusions.

It's really seeing it happen repeatedly over time that's the mind-blowing part anyway. You can't just do it once. Too easy to chalk it up to random chance or patterns in noise. The consistency over time is what finally nudged me into True Believer territory from the Total Skeptic position I originally started at.

So what do I make of all this and what conclusions am I drawing?

I'm not sure. I don't like to make wild claims about things I don't understand. I REALLY don't understand why tarot is defying my logical expectations about probability. I find it intensely irritating which is why I keep wanting to poke at it.

But here are a few hypotheses I want to throw out there based on my experiences in this arena:

1. Humans may have some kind of as-yet not well understood ability to influence material reality around them without physical action, at least within the realm of near-term minor probabilities.

2. There may be methods (via tools and specific mental states) to tap into this ability and direct it.

3. You may be able to hook this probability manipulation into sources of knowledge that are hidden from your conscious mind but are still accessible to parts of you (the collective unconscious, time unbound by one-way perception, whatever).

4. This may be how divination works (presuming that it does work).

This is all HIGHLY speculative. I only throw it out there as a working theory to play with and refine. But so far it's the only way I've been able to blend "Tarot defies expected probabilities" into my worldview in any way that satisfies me. I'm also willing to still entertain that I might just be delusional... but I don't think so.

I could go into all of these theories a little bit more but this post is already epic-length, so I think I'll shelve this for now and come back to more of this in a few months with Occult update #3. I'm not ready to draw any lines in the sand or just start engaging in magical thinking willy nilly.

But I want to keep looking at this and seeing if results continue in this weird vein as I read more about what other people have experienced with it. I still have someone's dissertation on this topic I need to read, too...

As a final thought, I'd like to remind you all that it's PURE hubris to assume that our current working knowledge of science and the world around us is either complete or correct. I'm doing experiments. I'm seeing weird stuff. It's highly subjective. Nothing to do but press on and draw my own conclusions.

If you're inclined to dismiss it out of hand without investigating it yourself, that's fine... I'm not really trying to convince you. But it annoys me immensely, and I want to know what's going on here.