Do Tarot Cards Work?: Considering the Skeptic (Common Tarot Questions Part 2)

Read Part I of Common Tarot Questions: Are Tarot Cards Evil? 

The Lovers, The Tower, the Six of Swords

Someone asking if tarot cards ‘work’ can be aggravating sometimes, but it’s not a bad question. It is completely valid, at least in my mind. After all, especially if someone is a potential customer, they want to make sure that they’re not getting into anything dodgy. I get that.

Before I get into answer this question, I want to take a moment to look at where the person asking the question is coming from. One of my Key themes in my series of Common Tarot Questions is spread understanding and compassion to those who are challenging the divinatory art of cartomancy.

This is a really long-winded post, and I’m really sorry about that. However, I’ll try and make this easier for you, and give you an outline ahead of time so you can skip to the parts you’re after. So here are my section headers:

  1. Skepticism (where the question is coming from)
  2. Skepticism Inverted (intense skepticism)
  3. Addressing the Question ‘Do Tarot Cards Work?’
    1. Tarot for the Reader
    2. Tarot for the Querant

Note: The headers of this aren’t necessarily titled as above, but the above are what you can expect in each section, essentially.

Since I have a background in philosophy, I’d like to begin this post by taking a philosophical approach.


In philosophy, to be skeptic isn’t a bad thing, and it’s a practice that’s carried out within the science community, and should absolutely be carried out as a standard practice within society and the individual. After all, we are in an ever-expanding information age where anyone can post about anything and call it fact. I like to think we’re getting better about challenging our sources, but then there are buzz phrases such as ‘fake news’ that flutter about, and whether or not it’s used in all seriousness or ironically, it is propagating skepticism, though in its reversal (I’ll get to that).

The idea of skepticism is to test an idea or theory out, to suspend belief until sufficient information is provided which allows for buying into said idea or theory. This has been tested throughout time, as mentioned.

DescartesFor example, Renee Descartes (Ren-nay Deh-cart), wanted to understand how he could prove that he truly did exist, and what he experienced did truly exist, and that he wasn’t simply a soul with havoc being wreaked by a demon with illusion magic. Modern philosophers call this the Brain in a Vat theory, the idea being that we could simply be brains in vats hooked up to machines which create a reality for us to experience. In both cases, we are bodiless, and for the most part, lifeless, since our realities are created for us and fed to us. In this circumstance, how can we be sure that we exist at all?

Through his Meditations (of which there are five parts), he concluded his famous cogito: Cogito ergo sum, or, I think, therefore I am.

Descartes concluded that because he could essentially prove to himself that he was thinking, since he spent his entire time thinking, that he was at least a thinking being. He existed so long as he could think. What he did was provide within himself a healthy level of skepticism to arrive at a conclusion that is still used today.

Side note: if you’re interested in this subject, you can research epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge), and metaphysics (the philosophy of reality…ish).

Skepticism Inverted

Descartes Inverted

There is an unhealthy level of skepticism. Like anything, we need skepticism, but anything out of balance or moderation can be unhealthy.

An example that Eckhart Tolle used in The Power of Now when explaining unhealthy balances of healthy things was that of cells reproducing: it’s perfectly normal and healthy for cells to reproduce within the body, but too much of it can lead to diseases such as cancers.

Likewise, I think sometimes too much information can be the same way: you can confuse yourself trying to sift through it and lose sight of the goal entirely, or muddle the sources or facts to create a new ‘facts’ entirely.

An unhealthy level of scepticism is like Why Game, in which the question ‘why?’ is asked after every answer. While it’s just something that children use to annoy their parents for the most part, as an intellectual being it’s a rejection of the answer as satisfactory and looking for a deeper meaning. If pursued long enough, it creates an inability to accept any truth, in which case the Skeptic can’t trust anything at all.

Returning to the Descartes example, one could challenge the Cogito, and ask how it is that we know that the thought and experiences we have that we are thinking aren’t superficially created by said demon/machine? This line of questioning gets us nowhere except to challenge that we exist at all (however, this does beg the question for motivation for the demon, how it is that the demon can be sure that their own experiences aren’t that similar to the human mind being toyed with, and so on).


There are some severe skeptics out there who aren’t necessarily being sceptical for the pursuit of knowledge, but instead are being sceptical because they’re waiting for an answer that corresponds to their beliefs.

This is also problematic. It leads to the Holocaust deniers, the flat-earthers, the climate-change deniers, and the anti-vaxxers.

There is a healthy level of questioning, and yes, absolutely consider who your sources are, who’s funding their research and so on. But when there is enough credible information that satisfies a claim enough to make it as close to a fact as possible, you have to give in to that information, even if it goes against what you want to believe.

At some point, the person seeking information has to decide when enough information is deemed plausible to create an acceptable answer.

Do the Tarot Cards Work?

Right, now I’ve meandered through the philosophical look at scepticism, I will actually address the pressing matter of the tarot. Do the Tarot Cards Work?

I can’t answer that question for you. But here’s what I can tell you:

Tarot is a very personal discovery. When you pick up a tarot deck either as a reader or as a querant, you are making the mental decision to be open to them, or closed to them. If the cards work for you, it’s because:

  • P1: You are open to their message
  • P2: Their message is derived from you
  • C1: You are open to hearing what your subconscious has to say to you
  • C2: You are open to self-discovery

I know, that sounds like a pretty New Age answer, but it’s essentially what is true. Given that tarot cards are not fortune-telling devices, but are a guidance tool for growth, what you get out of them is dependant on what you put into them.

Tarot for the Reader


Let’s compare tarot reading to coloring books.

The fantastic fad of coloring books for adults ventures promises of creating works of coloring art and gaining some therapy out of it as well. Me, personally, I get a little dissuaded by these because I just don’t color that well, and I keep looking at the covers and wondering why my scribbles don’t look like the rainbows on the front. But I digress.

Coloring books look simple. However, yes, you have the pens, yes you have the lines to colour in, but they’re not going to colour themselves in. Nor are your page going to be aesthetically pleasing unless you put the work into learning how to shade and create designs.

baby coloringA three-year-old learning to color in a coloring book is learning their motor skills, learning how to control their hand, learning what colors work together, and eventually learns how to color in the lines.

We can compare this to basic tarot usage:

  • You learn to use the booklet that comes with the deck
  • You learn the key words to go with each card—Death: change. Justice: Balance. Three of Cups: celebration. Six of Wands: Victory.

Coloring book 101.

Learning how to color in the lines is not the end of it. From there you learn shading. You learn to doodle patterns. You learn how to work with the shape of the lines to bring them forward, to give them depth, to give the 2-dimensional picture a life. Tarot is the same way.

Using tarot is not just learning the definitions. It is regularly handling, shuffling, and loving your cards. It is using meditation to open yourself up to your intuition. It is developing the inner voice that guides you through the story of the cards you lay out.

When tarot works, it’s because you’ve put the time and energy into the craft, into developing yourself and aligning your understanding of self with the cards so that they make sense to you.

0 - The Fool

It’s knowing that sure, traditionally the little dog in the Fool is trying to warn the Fool of the cliff’s edge, but to you, the dog rings closer to loyalty, and thus trusting those who are close to you to help you stay on the right path. It’s accepting that the yellow backgrounds in the Rider-Waite tarot means good omens, but it connects to a sense of sadness to you, and thus alters the meaning of the cards when they are reversed.

It’s about connecting your understanding of yourself, of the way your mind works, and learning what the symbols mean to you in order to read them.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember where I read this, but I very recently read that no two people read the same passage (I’m paraphrasing here). This is because each person is a unique conglomeration of elements that create their history, their mentality, their experiences, and their understandings.

When I was a kid, there was this great story series called Amelia Bedelia, in which a maid was left in charge of a list of things to do, which she misunderstood and did ridiculous things instead—like ‘bake a chicken pie’ might be misinterpreted as ‘bake a chicken a pie’, in which case that’s what she would do (I have no idea if that’s something she did, I can’t remember any specific examples off the top of my head). I’m not really sure why she didn’t get fired, to be honest, but it definitely made for a fantastic read when I was little.

Anyway, the books served as a great example of how we can easily misinterpret the things we read. This is down to how our minds work, and how our minds work, while partly can be down to biological factors, is also based on our experiences which develop our understanding of the world. The differences in our understandings create different ways of interpreting things, such as symbols used in the tarot.meditation

As a result, to know the tarot is to know the self. In order to develop a working experience with the tarot, one has to be able to develop a working relationship with the subconscious.

Tarot for the Querant

Right, so all that is great if you’re the one doing the reading, but what if you’re the one asking the questions, and you have no intention of getting your own deck and learning to read. You’re paying the money, you want to be read to.

Absolutely fair. Likewise, it is absolutely fair to question if the damn cards work.

I’ll give you the same answer as above though: I can’t answer that. It depends entirely on you.

dealing cards

If you are going to a tarot reader, you are going to them because you feel there are answers that you can gain from their skillset. Their skillset is that they are intuitively linked to their cards, and they can read them in relation to your life. That is what you are paying them for.

Going into a reading with this in mind, you should be opening yourself up to hear what the reader has to say, thus, what the cards have to say. You are open to the idea that there are energies that work around us, that we ourselves emit an energy that works with the cards.

If you are going to a tarot reader to just make sure they’re not a scammer, then you’re going into it closed. You have a preconceived notion that it is a scam, and thus you are looking for reasons not to believe what the reader/cards have to say. This leads us back to the skeptic/skeptic reversed.


Rachel Erazo of Crone Academy put it best when she said that we wouldn’t go to any other profession and watch them do their work to make sure they’re not a fraud. We wouldn’t go to say, a website developer, pay for their services just to make sure they’re not scamming people. So why would you go to a tarot reader to do the same? It doesn’t make sense. It’s the overly skeptical attitude that is leading to irrational actions.

It’s healthy to go into something with a level of caution, but if we go into it with a set belief and looking for things to verify said belief, then we’re going to reject anything that disproves or goes against that belief.

So if you believe that readers are con artists and just after the money of vulnerable people, then you might be thinking of say your mannerisms that might give any clues to the reader to go off, and thus will be more stone-faced. You might not want to touch the cards if the reader offers for you to shuffle them. You might not want to give any information about yourself, or any questions to guide them.

In putting up all these barriers, you’re putting up a barrier to your subconscious, and thus the cards will not work for you.

However, this isn’t the only instance in which tarot might not work for you. You might happily go to a reading, and ask a question regarding your business, and get a reading only relating to your love life. The reader insists that it has to do with your relationships, but all you’re wanting to hear is about your career, so none of what the reader is telling you is making sense.

In situations like this, it’s not a matter of the tarot ‘not working’, but rather a matter of you not being ready or willing to hear what the cards have to say.

I use this example so much, but that’s because it’s a good example:

Spiral Tarot The Lovers
Spiral Tarot by Kay Steventon: The Lovers

I was coming up to a move from the US to the UK with my partner at the time. I was worried about the money situation, and how we were going to make it happen once we were in the UK. I kept doing reading after reading asking about out finances, and I kept getting answers regarding the relationship—and answers that didn’t seem to make any sense to me. Something about a third person, multiple people, etc.

As it turns out, my partner was telling everyone—well, every woman—that we were in an open relationship, and thus was being unfaithful to me.

The cards were telling me something, and I just wasn’t in a place to hear it. I was too focussed on something else.

Though, that being said, it was related to my financial matters. I moved without him, and while it meant that I didn’t have his stream of income, it actually made moving a lot simpler as I didn’t have to look for solutions for two people, but just a solution for me. I was able to get a job when and where I wanted, I could take on shared housing temporarily, and so on. The love matter did actually solve my financial matter, for the most part.

So, if you’re a person seeking answers from a reader, you need to go into it with an open mind. Of course you can use your sceptical mind, but use it after you’ve heard what the reader has to say, and you can question them. More often than not, they are more than happy to answer your concerns.

I’ll do a post in the future about what questions you can/should ask, and what actions/questions you should absolutely avoid when seeing a reader, as this can influence your experience with a reader as well.

In Summary

I know, that was a lot of information. But there are no simple answers when learning about tarot, or astrology, or any other form of divination. There are a lot of complexities at play, and a lot of things to consider. However, if both reader and querant go into tarot with an open mind, they are likely to gain more out of their experience.

What do you think? Did I answer the question? Did I miss the mark entirely? Let me know in the comments what you think. Divination is an ongoing study, you can never fully master it, and thus, I am always a student. It is through your comments that discussions are created, and it’s those discussions I want to be a part of.

Read Part III of Common Tarot Questions: Can Tarot Cards Predict the Furture?

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