Tarot and Socioeconomic Class: My Thoughts After drawingKenaz

Thorn Mooney recently shared her thoughts in her vlog, “Paganism, Tarot, and Class.” You really should watch her video first before reading onward, but to give background for my thoughts here, I’ll try to recap.

Mooney talks about witchcraft as a practice occurring lower down on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a practice that is more concerned with practical applications, like talking to the dead, love spells, money spells, or getting jobs. She uses the phrase “real world, tactile, necessary things.”

Those who endeavor into the esoteric or metaphysical, she says, are more concerned with self-actualization, per Maslow’s hierarchy, which is at the top of the pyramid. They’re working through long-term emotional or spiritual concerns, striving to be their best selves, and can endeavor with these concerns because their basic physiological needs have been met.

She then talks about how all that translates in her professional tarot readings. She has found, per her own experiences, that those who request readings from her online tend to ask about issues relating to purpose in life, spiritual direction, meaning, connection to deity or deities, which she acknowledges are very “important,” but “not critically important in the sense that, oh, ‘I might be evicted from my home tomorrow'” important.

::nods:: I get that.

In contrast, reading requests she gets from the shop she works at (i.e., in-person readings, I presume), clients are asking questions like “I don’t have any money to afford a lawyer and my ex-husband has filed for full custody of my kids and the court hearing is tomorrow. What is going to happen? Am I going to lose my kids?” or “My child is physically ill and we can’t afford healthcare. What do you see happening to us?”

“I am obviously not qualified to offer legal or medical advice,” Mooney remarks, “and yet I am repeatedly put in the position where I am asked to provide input, and technically [that input] is not from me, it’s from the cards, but that’s a really blurry line.”

Mooney continues, describing the nature of these lower-level-per-Maslow’s-hierarchy questions as “gritty,” noting that it’s rare for someone in that context to be asking her about finding higher meaning in the world.

And Mooney hypothesizes that it’s tied to socioeconomic class.

When you don’t have the luxury to afford housing, medical care, and when your basic physiological and emotional needs are not being met, then you’re simply not interested in “working through your shadow.” She noted that the differences between communities who occupy positions of privilege and those who do not are striking.

Prior to watching Mooney’s video, there already were some poorly-formed thoughts wandering around in my own head about tarot and class, but Mooney’s video really helped to provide a framework for me to think more on the issue. It’s true, the differences can really take you aback. When reading for people from certain social classes, or at the very least, people who have the foundational levels of Maslow’s hierarchy met, I get questions about creative projects, and yes, life purpose, their higher career trajectory (as opposed to job or occupation), and seeking greater understanding of the spiritual dimensions to their lives. When I do some of the pro bono tarot readings, then like Mooney experienced, every third question I get blurs ethical lines and forces me to really figure out where I stand ethically when it comes to readings.

Although… I don’t know, and please forgive me, for I am forming these thoughts as I write so there hasn’t been a buffer period for deeper analysis yet. The very wealthy will ask me pretty mundane questions about their real estate investments, third party reading requests about ex-lovers are most certainly not limited by social class, and no matter what class you come from, you deal with cancer, a health issue that at least right now, no amount of money can help you cure. So now upon more thought, the nature of questions I get for tarot readings can’t perfectly be categorized by social class.

However, there’s still something here, and Mooney is still touching on something significant about tarot and social class that I am not quite able to articulate the parameters of.

My conscious thoughts now wander over to the distinction between fortune-telling and divination (maybe). A. E. Waite came from humble beginnings and from what I’ve read of his biography, his widowed mother struggled financially to raise him. Aleister Crowley, on the other hand, was a trust fund baby, a “spoiled scion of a wealthy Victorian family” (quote I gleaned from somewhere that I found in my personal notes, but can’t seem to locate the source of right now; I know it’s not my own verbiage because I had jotted it down in quotes).

In writings by Waite that I’ve come across, he doesn’t seem to make any distinctions between fortune-telling and divination, and uses the two terms synonymously. (Like in Pictorial Key.) That got me wondering if views on fortune-telling and divination are formed based at least in some part on socioeconomic class, because Crowley, the trust fund baby, seemed to have a different take on the matter than Waite. To talk about Crowley in this context, let me first talk about Levi.

Eliphas Levi (pseudonym for Alphonse Louis Constant) was schooled at a seminary and entered Catholic priesthood, so comes from a clerical background, i.e., by upbringing, more concerned with the upper echelons of Maslow’s hierarchy than the lower, and when concerned with the lower, it’s likely more alms-related for the purposes of self-actualization and addressing those upper echelon needs, not to address actual physiological needs.

In The Key of the Mysteries, or at least the English translation of it by Aleister Crowley, Levi does make a clear distinction between fortune-telling and divination, and if you want to talk about being condescending toward fortune-telling, well

“This operation of the qabalistic sages, originally intended to discover the rigorous development of absolute ideas, degenerated into superstition when it fell into the hands of the ignorant priests and the nomadic ancestors of the Bohemians who possessed the Tarot in the Middle Ages; they did not know how to employ it properly, and used it solely for fortune-telling.”

From Eliphas Levi’s The Key of the Mysteries (1861) as translated by Aleister Crowley (emphasis my own)

It would appear by my observation that Crowley seemed to follow Levi’s views more, and thus diverge from Waite’s use of tarot for fortune-telling purposes. Inferred from Waite’s writings in Pictorial, he seems to be okay with fortune-telling tarot.

Like Levi by way of Crowley, Paul Foster Case also makes a clear distinction between fortune-telling and divination, and like Levi and Crowley, in contrast to Waite, Case also comes from a socioeconomic class that would imply that growing up, most of his physiological and lower-level needs were met. Case’s father was the town librarian and his mother taught music to her son, a talent that Case developed to the point of becoming a professional violinist.

From those facts, I infer that Case’s lower-level Maslow needs were met. You don’t become a concert violinist (and you don’t get violin lessons in childhood) when you’re struggling with food, shelter, and money issues, and even though yes, musicians are known for struggling with such needs, I doubt that Paul Foster Case falls under that pool if he’s worried more about whether to become a concert violinist or an occultist than, say, violin or factory job to put bread on the table.

[All this, of course, gets me wondering tangentially about where artists, writers, and creative professionals fall into the socioeconomic spectrum, many of whom do not have their lower-level needs met, but seem to say “so what?” and still pursue higher-level needs. But I think that’s too hefty a tangent for this post.]

Where was I? Right. Tarot and social class. Wondering whether the distinction between fortune-telling and divination has anything to do with it. And straying into some personal amateur research on Waite, Crowley, Levi, and Case for their views on fortune-telling versus divination, and to see if there were any social class distinctions there that might be insightful on the discussion of tarot and social class. Christ, this should be a book, or at the very least a dissertation, not a blog post. Anyway.

Curiosity and exploration of the metaphysical don’t discriminate by class, but perhaps how we talk about it, the vocabulary we choose to use, and our approach to it does. For those who come from a background of having to struggle day to day with lower-level Maslow needs, like maybe Waite, like maybe those who seek out tarot for predictive purposes because oftentimes their present day survival depends on what they can know about their future, channels of metaphysical exploration are used for what Mooney was referring to as “real world, tactile, necessary things.” So the notion of fortune-telling comes into play, and if that has been the socioeconomic context in which we’ve operated prior to metaphysical exploration, then perhaps it would follow that the distinction between fortune-telling and divination is one more of semantics, because we ourselves blur the lines and seek out metaphysical energy to address “gritty” material matters.

Those who are operating at the upper levels of Maslow needs have the privilege of looking down the pyramid and seeing the various levels as distinct parts of the whole, and so the distinction between fortune-telling and divination becomes more of an intellectual exercise, one calibrated toward self-actualization. It’s not merely a matter of semantics anymore because the privileged don’t need to call upon metaphysical energy to address “gritty” matters because they’ve got the money and the resources to resolve those issues. They’re not desperate, so they don’t need to seek out metaphysical energy for lower-level Maslow needs.

Yet the interest in the metaphysical is still there. So what do they do. They harness metaphysical energy to address upper-level Maslow needs, toward self-actualization. Lines are much less likely to be blurred, because material things cannot bring self-actualization, so then the primary modality for that would be metaphysics.

Also, since they can look down the pyramid, here is where they will be able to observe, in practice, the distinction between fortune-telling and divination, and see their own use of metaphysical energy as divination, because it’s not “gritty.” Divination, then, is likened to using tarot for questions about shadow, life purposes, yada yada, while fortune-telling is likened to using the cards to get a sense of what’s going on with your ankle, since you don’t have the money to see a doctor about it. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong about all this.

I would love to hear your insights on tarot and socioeconomic class. Also check out Thorn’s YouTube channel and follow Thorn’s blog, The Tarot Skeptic.

13 thoughts on “Tarot and Socioeconomic Class: My Thoughts After drawingKenaz

  1. Suzi Petito

    Well, it seems that we have a complex set of issues running in the same direction trying to find a place to land….phew! Class, Hierarchy of Needs………….but artists may not have their most basic needs being met, but they still soldier on in the artistic realms………..my had is swimming, only because I am squeezing this very interesting discussion into my shortening day….OK, I rushed through but want to say this: after 65 years, I’ve experienced the lower and higher ends of the spectrum………..did not come from money, educated myself but did not complete college in the 20th century – always had a place to live and good food, owed money, but worked hard, raised two children and helped put them through college – now a grandmother, but all that boring aside….I live both up and down the Tree of Life EVERY DAY because my life is very full, I work, I am in the world outside watching it go through changes……I still think about my future, and my children’s future…..I am fully engaged, and as a “witch” I do not have an altar or wear a pentagram….My LIFE IS my altar. (you should see my house)….my jewelry and clothing – haphazard most days…..I do not have others read my fortune….I study the cards I do not read professionally….my LIFE is busy, so I have no time to Judge other people on their respective paths….I am along for one crazy ride….and I do not have all of the answers, nor do I expect to….when some one needs advice or help, I sit with them, I feed them… I do not judge them… I walk with them….And I am very interested in how you both see this topic developing because I am a true student…always learning:-) Long winded…. not proofed…………..need to food shop for the weekend…………I’m out the door:-)


    1. Loved this stream of consciousness wisdom, Suzi! And so much said in a concise paragraph. Based on your experience, you’d say it’s really tough (and maybe not even a worthy exercise) to categorize or talk about tarot in terms of social class? Because the experiences are going to vary *that* widely? Very interesting stuff here as you’ve presented it in your insights above. Thanks!


      1. Suzi Petito

        Benebel, Thanks for seeing my “rant” as concise:-)……………yes, my experiences do vary widely, and I allow for others’ to – also. However, as WIDE as they may be, it all folds into the present moment. We all love Tarot, here. What keeps me in, is the fact that there are SO many different directions to go with discussions: one, what we see differently (so that we may LEARN) and what we have in common(where we SHARE and ENJOY)…….Life Lived is like that:-)


  2. Great pithy observations. My humble opinion … socioeconomic class ties are relevant to divination vs. fortune-telling and an understanding of those ties aids Readers in being able to best bridge the gap for Seekers. The flip side of this, if the Reader presents a more esoteric reading for “Am I going to lose my kids?” the Seeker will be disappointed and label the Reader as not “worthwhile.” Just as it’s important for professional Readers to identify a Seeker in need of psychological therapy, there must be consideration for where any Seeker might be on the hierarchy-of-needs journey and temper, shape, and uplift the reading accordingly.


    1. Wow, Nancy. Spot on true and well said. It reminds me of what a professional tarot practitioner mentioned (in an unrelated conversation) the other day about needing to be a versatile reader, and not pigeon-holing yourself into one narrow category of reader. You’re essentially echoing that sentiment. Talking about the Tree of Life and sephiroth to the seeker asking, “Am I going to lose my kids at tomorrow’s court hearing?” really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and seems absurd. While of course I see how others find tarot to be a worthy endeavor precisely because of its ability to be a channel toward self-actualization. Thanks for your input. Sage words of advice here for every tarot reader.


  3. Hi Richard: Yes, a great Friday over here! Thanks! Your thoughts are always valued by me, you know that.

    I, too, think there is a lot of blurring of lines, and while I can’t speak for the originator of the topic (Thorn Mooney), I bet she’d agree to at least a certain extent, since in her video she, too, talked about lines blurring.

    That, though, may be what’s so fascinating about this intersection. I don’t think any of us have formed a concrete theory or conclusion about this subject yet, but it sure is fun to explore it step by step like this!


  4. Yes, class is relevant to what you deliver in a reading. I don’t have a fix way of defining a reading. I don’t have a public practice where I am accessible to everyone in need, you can only contact me trough internet or “word of mouth”. I I only have internet exposure in my personal website. People that ask for my services are usually educated. But there is a trend that phones are accessible and people from all classes had cellular phones and I can be access easily trough “Goggle”. I had been on line for 13 years. that means I had build a clientele.

    Of course I want to read to educated people, which I can read in my own language, intellectual and emotional wisdom. But I had learned a lot from uneducated people that only can access me by their phones. I had learn that I can blend and mingle with every human that ask for a reading. This is something we have have to deal and learn in order to be capable of of acceding a broad spectrum of clientele. Of course, I like to add, not to rest the possibilities, because I grow and develop other capabilities with this exposure. This is my experience. I understand other readers want other kind or fulfillment to their practice.

    I have a life purpose and is to promote the emotional well being of every one that ask my assistance. I think we all have to ask what we want from our practice?


    1. That’s great, Cazadora!

      It’s true, each tarot professional will have a slightly different objective for his or her practice. (Yet for reasons I’m just beginning to grapple with, tarot professionals are hypersensitive about how *they* practice and really, really don’t like it when they encounter tarot folk who practice it differently. There is a lot of insecurity in this community.)

      Not only is it my personal experience, but I’ve been hearing this same sentiment echoed by a majority of tarot practitioners– our clientele is a mixed bag. It’s really hard to use a blanket statement to characterize these clients, other than maybe “they are all looking for answers.” =P

      Thanks for your input! Loved hearing what you had to say!


  5. Jason L. Corlett

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Benebell. There is much to consider in this discussion. ONE thing that neither Thorn nor anyone else here has mulled over is the socio-economic status (SES) of the tarot card reader. As tarot readers, too often do we assume that our service is a higher calling, that we are immune to the SES of our upbringing and our subsequent struggle to transcend or to remain rooted in it. I’d venture to suggest that we might learn a lot by this sort of self reflection; that what is most telling is how we see ourselves in a mirror and whether or not our reflections match how others see us. There is SO MUCH to consider; my mind and time don’t allow for as serious and thorough an investigation as I would like. Again, a great reflection and reaction to a potentially polarizing vlog. Thank you so much for your thoughts! With my best for you, Jason


    1. Hi Jason:

      Your point about the tarot reader’s SES did cross my mind, but I couldn’t work out any sort of generalization or even theory on that, so I simply skipped over it, at least for now, until I’ve worked through more life experience and self reflection.

      A while back, interesting enough, I commented in an interview to the stark opposite of the observations raised in both the video and some of my ruminations in the above blog post. (Link: https://nadinetarotreiki.wordpress.com/2015/02/12/my-interview-with-benebell-wen-author-of-the-book-called-holistic-tarot/, See response to #4.)

      On one hand, there is a common thread that runs through all seekers/clients/querents that we get, that seems to transcend differences such as SES, and that’s one of the reasons I’m drawn to tarot practice. On the other, I still feel that Thorn is onto something, and there is an important empirical point to be made there, on tarot and socioeconomic class, whether it’s the SES of the seeker or the SES of the reader that’s the more significant focus, I’m not sure yet.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  6. Interesting topic. Thought that the following on the role of gender and divination/fortune telling might be of interest. The author seems to avoid discussing class and instead views readings as “‘feeling labor’ that produces an affective intersubjective space for the incitement, experience, and articulation of emotions”. Hope it adds to the discussion. https://gendersociety.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/feeling-the-gendered-labor-of-fortunetelling/


  7. tarotbythom

    I’d like to congratulate and thank Thorn, Benebell, and all the commenters so far for being brave and addressing a topic like this. After thinking about Thorn’s vlog and Benebell’s response here, I realized that I had SO much to say that it wasn’t appropriate to hijack Benebell’s comment space. So I have instead posted a continuation of my own thoughts on my own blog at Virtue Centered Tarot (I think you can access the website through my Gravatar…?)

    I think my biggest thoughts are not just on the difference between those more desperate due to Maslovian needs not being met -and- a more contented, spiritually driven clientele,… but of a wider picture of the infinite inter-connected factors and causes that contribute to socio-economic disparity “synchronizing” themselves into forming a desparate class of people–and the indicators that that class may be growing in uncomfortable ways in our contemporary [American] culture. (And that perhaps Thorn’s observation is a hint of that growing disparity…)

    In speaking of the wiccan or coven-affiliated community, Thorn is talking about a minority class of people that have been persecuted, reviled, and demonized through much of history. There are other minorities in contemporary society that are just as risk-prone and become just as desperate: LGBTQ people, those suffering from mental illness or drug addiction, those suffering from PTSD (whether from war, rape, abuse, etc.). And this is to say nothing of other factors such as place (living in a blue-collar small town as opposed to a larger metropolis), health insurance (which as Thorn notes shouldn’t be a luxury, but often is), the loss of pensions and worker advocacy as big corporations politically kill unions, etc.,

    The minutiae of the affects of an apathetic political landscape seem to indicate Thorn’s community of “gritty, hardscrabble” clients may only get bigger unless we pay attention and speak up… as you have accomplished by the blessing of starting this conversation…


  8. The Bibliotherapod.

    I’ve spent most of my adulthood poor – like homeless, in and out of mental hospitals, empty food cupboards kind of poor. During that time, I had my own tarot deck and would occasionally visit a medium when I had a little cash to spare. What it gave me was a sense that in those 78 cards was the miltitude of life, all the good bits, luxuries, memories, best cases, bad luck scenarios, heartbreaking realities. The cards contain it all. Life contains it all. Being poor is very boring and it is, by definition, lacking freedom. A tarot reading was a chance to look up at the 78 cards, at a future that could contain security and resources as much as my past had contained danger and scarcity. The cards allowed me a window to dream of a freedom I didn’t have, and that made poverty bearable while I worked my way out.

    Also, the boring, fearful, moral dilemma laden school of oppressive poverty is fertile ground for shadowwork. Now I know I won’t have the comfortable wealthy life I assumed was my destiny, I’m like, what now? What is life about without bullshit consumerism? You know that saying, character is who you are when the lights are off? Character is who you are when you are broke. Many a time the tarot helped me figure out whether to be generous with my scraps or hoarde from fear.


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