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.