The Generation Gap Between Tarot Practitioners

Photograph that is unrelated to the topic at hand but posting here for the visual effect notwithstanding because your eyeballs need there to be a photo here and I couldn't source one that would be related.
Photograph that is unrelated to the topic at hand but posting here for the visual effect notwithstanding because your eyeballs need there to be a photo here and I couldn’t source one that would be related.

First off, naturally I will be speaking in generalizations.

People my age are sandwiched somewhere in between the Old Guard and the Millennial Readers.

Although my mother is not a tarot reader, she’s a metaphysical reader/practitioner of sorts and I’m super sure that had tarot been accessible to her as a young one, she would have totally become a tarot reader. Instead, she reads other stuff. Like your face. No, I kid, but oh no, I don’t. She really does.

I can see her attitude reflected in many of the Old Guard tarot readers. “I’m not normal. Tarot is not normal. Damn straight this is fringe. Deal with it.”

There’s an unabashed embrace of marginalized culture. There’s no embarrassment with dressing woo-woo as you walk among normal society. You can almost see traces of a hedge witch mentality.

Although she has never come outright to say so, I get the distinct sense that she doesn’t want everyone and the mainstream to become diviners, mediums, shamans, and practitioners of craft. There is a tacit yet clear exclusionary attitude. Or at least that’s always been the impression I got. She doesn’t want (let alone buy in to the ideas of) Mediumship 101, “everybody’s psychic,” or “pay me $300 and I will certify you as a bona fide tarot master.” (Hi. Certified tarot master here.)

Meanwhile millennial readers apply general business and marketing tactics to tarot–e.g., general PR and marketing principles to tarot business, coaching anyone and everyone to become diviners, mediums, shamans, and practitioners of craft, if you so choose. There are efforts to establish tarot into mainstream culture.

There is a pop psychology approach to tarot (which I have been pegged and critiqued as adopting, so apparently I’m in this camp) that strives to normalize divination practices or astrology, and to talk about spell-crafting as the law of attraction and “yay for positive thinking.”

However, at the heart of the millennial approach is the notion of accessibility, a socialist attitude toward the metaphysics. We can all have equal access to the Divine, to metaphysical energy work. (I confess, that is the attitude I adopt. That line sums up my opinion.) Metaphysics is for everyone. This is not paranormal, it’s normal. You don’t need anybody else to help you connect to the Divine. You only need you.

Okay, so as circumstances would have it, I’m now only a couple paragraphs in and I’ve already changed my mind.

Maybe I haven’t changed my mind exactly, but it is for sure vacillating. Is it really a generational thing? Or is it just a two-different-schools-of-thought thing? Is my personal anecdotal evidence and direct observations even reliable?

I’m in effect just looking around me, only to the point I am able to physically see, and making gross generalizations about what else is out there based on only what I see. Is what I happen to see an accurate microcosmic sampling of the macro? I don’t know. I really don’t.

However, there is for sure a determined voice among the occultists and metaphysicians who say that “occult” means concealed, and we are not to remove the veil for all. Only those who choose the path should or even can go beyond that veil to see for themselves what is there, and then come back with divinatory or revelatory information as needed, like an appointed messenger.

Is that way of thinking a bit reminiscent of limiting literacy to the elite so that the proletariat must rely on figures of authority (like a priest or priestess) for Divine insights? That was the way of institutionalized Western religion for ages. Is it hypocritical when metaphysicians repudiate that kind of authoritarian approach to religion, pursue occultism because they’re anti-authoritarian and want the answers for themselves, but then once they’ve found those answers, act in the same exclusionary manner?

I’ve observed that the Old Guard, Mom inclusive, have this sense that what they do “isn’t for everyone.” She would probably opine that not anyone can just pick up a grimoire, follow something in there, and yield results. Only certain people can do that. As I said, there’s a staunch exclusionary attitude. I’m also sure if I introduced her to the 21st century spiritual coaching power of manifestation business model, she’d find it absurd.

Actually, she wouldn’t. She’s pretty open-minded. She’d be surprised at first, but then come around. “Okay, all right, I get it. I wouldn’t have thought of that but I get it.” For instance, it might take her some time to grasp the idea that, say, I’m holding an online webinar course on Learning the Opening of the Key for Tarot Summer School and teaching occult theories to a whole bunch of people I’ve never even met, all at once. Perhaps in her view, spirituality, divination, and woo-based teaching is done one pupil at a time, a single teacher to pupil relationship that is honed over several years, not in 60 minutes.

Whereas maybe I do have a more “free love” attitude here. We’re entering a social era where notions once reserved in the New Age or even occult category run as an undercurrent through mainstream society. Corporate offices pay for yoga classes and meditation retreats for their employees. Businesses far from the woo will consider feng shui tips and tricks. Law firms invite in tarot and palm readers for their company Christmas party. Silicon Valley high-tech companies will hire a witch to cast a circle of protection around their computers, protecting them from hackers. All true stories here. I doubt any of this would have happened even 20 years ago. Things are changing.

As woo practitioners such as tarot readers converge more with the corporate and mainstream worlds, they adopt corporate and mainstream commercial strategies to advance their tarot business. Corporate and mainstream businesses converge more with woo practitioners and adopt woo into their environments because hey, “anything to help us earn more money. If that’s a spell or feng shui, then let’s do it.”

So admittedly, there was no point or core thesis to this post. I just thought I’d ramble on some thoughts of late.

32 thoughts on “The Generation Gap Between Tarot Practitioners

  1. Haha I was trying to follow along and read the whole comment (with great interest!) but I think Internet went bonkers on you or something. I’m getting fragments. Let me know what you’d like me to do. Will do.

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  2. Let me know what you’d like me to do. I only delete comments on my site when the commenter specifically requests it. (Otherwise, generally, I think comment deletion is, like, kinda rude. I don’t want to be rude.) 😀

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  3. These are some really interesting musings, Benebell! I’m admittedly of the new-reader group, and I definitely agree that there’s been a huge shift towards encouraging everyone who’s interested to pursue the occult, whether it’s witchcraft or tarot or runes or what-have-you. I think part of it is there seems to be a need, in the present day, for something more – for a spirituality that’s less rigid than structured religion, one that’s more adaptable since we’ve all grown up to adapt to an ever-changing world. While of course there are still plenty of millennials who are a part of organized religion, and while many people who ARE a part of that still do things like read tarot or practice witchcraft, I don’t know many people my age who regularly go to church or have a religious practice like that, even if they were raised to be religious (myself included!) I think that in a lot of ways the religions of old are clashing with the ways that society has evolved, and while there are certainly ways to adapt these religions to fit the modern lifestyle, I’m seeing more and more people turn to alternative spiritualities and practices to fill the gap instead – practices that are more inclusive of more diverse identities that have felt excluded in the past. This is not to say there’s anything wrong with having a rigid, structured religion, only that I think part of the surge in popularity of the tarot is that as people identify less with organized religion, the stigma around things those religions frowned upon disappears a little, making the occult no longer an issue of morality and therefore more accessible.

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  4. I don’t see the exclusionist versus everybody attitude as a generational one. Rather it is more based on the individual and, perhaps their training. I started reading in the late 1960s when all us “hippies” were experimenting with Tarot and the occult, creating our own approaches or learning techniques from a suspicious, true “old guard” (Spiritualists, Theosophists and occultists born in the early 20th century or before). I find I can teach, in a weekend or course, what took me at least seven years to figure out on my own. I believe anyone can read Tarot—if they want to and stick with it—not everyone does and so, like most things in life, it’s not for everyone.

    In fact, I guide people through their own readings and am always delighted with their insights into the cards. There are even astonishing results with the early readings a person does. I know talented musicians who can work with a group of non-musicians and have them playing really interesting music in a day — but that doesn’t make those new-comers into instant professional musicians. Knowledge and practice is required to develop the wisdom and flexibility to read consistently and in difficult situations. Not everyone can be a talented musician — I’m living proof of that.

    I don’t think that Tarot is now mainstream. With the number of evocative decks available and the body of works that reference Tarot, it is more prevalent in the culture, but it is still deliberately used by media to indicate something strange and off-beat. I still get nasty emails from those who think I’m doing the work of the devil, and, in certain parts of the world, I could be beheaded for reading Tarot. And I sure don’t get instant acceptance as a knowledgeable professional among professionals in other fields — after all, isn’t it something that anyone can do — if they are silly enough to bother?

    I knew people who were bringing Tarot into corporation situations back in the 1970s, but I also know that Apple used a Tarot motif for an in-house invitation and had to recall all the invitations when there were a major protest. Even in the New Age world, Doreen Virtue found it necessary, fairly recently, to produce a pretty but bland Angel Tarot deck that would be “gentle and safe enough for everyone” and not filled with the negativity and disturbing occult images that so many fear—essentially removing all that “unnecessary” symbolism and describing the cards with bright platitudes.

    As a professor of Women’s Studies in the 1970s and 80s, I’ve seen advances that we, in progressive academia, took for granted whittled away and even forgotten since then. Ideas that had a huge following among those in the suffrage movement in the 1890s had to be re-discovered more than half a century later. These things go in waves. It’s one of the advantages of historians, to be aware of these waves or cycles and how ephemeral they can be.

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  5. I apologize for not including with my earlier comments that I’m so glad you wrote on this topic, Benebell, as I do think the ideas and trends are important to discuss. You make us think and not take things for granted. I also appreciate that you take us on your own journey as your ideas begin to shift mid-post. You are a brave and open-minded soul. Thank you.

    I was told early on in my studies (late ’60s and 70s) that pretty much all the occult material had been published and was easy to find (if you lived in a coastal US city or London). It’s not about “hidden secrets” anymore, rather it is about doing the “practice” until doors of perception open within the self.

    I first tried doing the I-Ching with yarrow stalks. It was laborious and confusing, until I watched a master do it. It was an exquisitely beautiful meditative, tai-chi-like dance of hand and stalks that stole my breath away. Since Tarot called to me more, I never developed that form of moving meditation for myself. That’s okay; I’m content with my choice.

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    1. First off, I’m so honored that you’re even commenting on my wee little blog! ❤

      You're right in that ultimately, it boils down to the individual. Exclusionary or not exclusionary, ultimately it's about how dedicated one is willing to be to a craft and hone their level of perception. Also, I didn't know about the inclusion of tarot to any capacity in the corporate sector back in the 70s and 80s, so all that was new information to me. I'm glad to learn.

      It's true that tarot isn't quite as readily accepted yet as yoga or meditation, though even those practices still spark controversy in the Bible Belt (recent news articles of schools under fire for teaching yoga in gym class), or else I wouldn't have opted with a pseudonym for publication. =) But I do get the impression that people aren't *as* closed-minded about it as I had thought.

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    2. Mary: I consider you one of my original ‘mentors’ through your books. although I first ran into the Tarot in 1965 on Telegraph Avenue, I didn’t really start reading about it (and purchasing a Thoth deck) until 1982 when a counselor did a reading for me. The reading had a profound effect on me. Even though it felt woo woo at the time–it still resonated and helped me at a very difficult time in my life. It’s true that fashions come and go–living on the West Coast makes our world seem very open minded but you’re right that there are still people who this Tarot and other ‘occult’ practices are the work of the devil. Anyway: I’m grateful that there are discussions about the practice and significance of Tarot–I’ve never had anyone to talk with who was willing to consider unanswered questions or feelings of doubt. It’s terrific to read what more experienced practitioners have to say–to see their thinking process. It’s like having an artist talk out loud about how they are considering the painting that they’re working on. Thank you to you and Benebell for this discussion. Sally

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      1. It is part of the wisdom that oversees things that the true nature of everything is coming out of hiding. This includes churches, schools, banks. governments, etc. For people who have placed trust in false things, this is shocking times. I pity the ones who still rely on things that do not offer real shelter. Is beautiful irony that as all the false offers of shelter are being shown, Tarot, runes, I Ching are all showing a resurgence. I find them supremely helpful to use esp. when one approaches them as a sort of telephone, way of having helpful conversations with those beneficial presences within us and surrounding us. These tools help us take off the blindfolds, remove the binders, that block us. and keep us loyal to beliefs, practices, institutions that do not serve us. also can deepen our conscious connection, life line to our personal Helpers. Ben Wen, thank you for encouraging explorations of tarot, taking it out of it’s box even within the tarot community.

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  6. I think our species has been driven to use tools etc. to communicate with something larger and wiser than us for 1’000’s of years. early cave drawings show this. I think what has hindered this has been all the violent ways different cultural influences have attempted to stop this. So “old school” people often have something in their subconscious that triggers terror, anytime these tools are used more true to their natural intended use. which I think is to facilitate conversations between us and Helpers that can see the larger picture.

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  7. Benebell, thank you for bringing up a fascinating topic. I like the idea of tarot being available to anyone who chooses, yet I don’t think that automatically means it will become so widespread that its meaning is diluted.

    I’m a newcomer to tarot and even a few years ago I was not interested in it; it’s only because I’ve gotten to a certain point in my life where I am wondering what comes next that I have become open to learning how tarot can help me figure that out.

    So I guess my point is that where people are in their life’s journey can be a really important factor in their openness to tarot — someone who may have been neutral or even negative at one point in life may be embracing tarot at another point. Someone who was much more “traditionally” religious may shift to being open to other avenues of spirituality.

    Ideally we become more open to other ideas as we get older, although I suppose it can go the other way too, with some people getting more rigid in their thinking as they age (what I might call the “get off my lawn” phenomenon?).

    PS I love the honesty of your photo caption…

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  8. It seems to me that a major sign of Tarot and the occult being accepted and mainstream will be when the vast majority proudly use their own names when working in or writing about these fields. I don’t blame anyone for using pseudonyms in the world we now live in.

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  9. I’m in the middle of the demographics too. But I lean toward the younger generation’s view of the Tarot and other occult subjects. DEMYSTIFY it. Why? Because I think a lot of people out there take advantage of people, pretending they are in the know. Or they use certain “magic” knowledge to prop themselves up above the rest.

    When the masses can see through this kind of shenanigans, we’ll be a lot freer.

    Besides I’m not one who looks upon tarot as any kind of mystical divination tool. It just opens up the psychology aspect of oneself.

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  10. Can anyone explain to me why every other field except Tarot and the Occult should have a learning curve and those who, through many long years of study and practice, are usually more wise, knowledgeable and experienced than newbies, but with Tarot and the Occult the masses can (or should) be instantly equal to everyone who came before?

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    1. It’s because of Protestantism & left-wing politics, IMO. I have observed that people who have that kind of thought are usually Westerners, particularly Americans (strong Protestant influence). And as we know Protestantism has the doctrine of universal priesthood. Combine that with the Left’s passion for “social justice” and voila! This is what you get ;-). Just my 2 cents.

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    2. Its crazy…..
      Same for yoga teachers, now the young, hip “yoga” teachers with a mere few years experience, usually background dance, are commanding more money and students than a devoted unassuming yoga master with 40 plus years teaching experience.

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  11. How interesting! 🙂 You know, I actually want to encourage EVERYONE to study tarot haha! I feel that the most important part is NOT to become a professional, or do huge complex spreads, or read for 100 other people, or do daily readings for oneself, or foretell the future etc… The most fantastic way tarot has been beneficial to me is through study of tarot cards. Getting to know and understand the archetypes, looking withing “Okay, what does The Empress mean to ME? Based on my relationship with my mother, or other mothers, or my inner mother?” etc. That inner work has given me so much, and that’s why I think everyone should do their own study with tarot. It makes you grow, evolve, understand, and connect.

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  12. I love this and I am of BOTH mindsets, lol, which frustrates me sometimes. I know a lot of it is that growing up I was the ‘weird’ one for liking all of these things and I had to keep it secret. And now those SAME people who thought it was so weird are becoming woo themselves and talking about it as if it’s totally fine now because Celebrity A hired tarot reader 1 so obviously it’s cool? *sigh* I have a lot of feelings about this too, obviously…

    I do think the corporate world can benefit from the woo and magic world (as long as they don’t try to screw us over, like, hello….don’t do that to us, you really shouldn’t do that). And it is a new era, a new age, so hell, let’s see what happens.

    And thank you for sharing this!

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  13. Its crazy…..
    Same for yoga teachers, now the young, hip “yoga” teachers with a mere few years experience, usually background dance, are commanding more money and students than a devoted unassuming yoga master with 40 plus years teaching experience.

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  14. Benebell and Mary, Fascinating conversation and one dear to my heart. I have been taking online and in-person classes over the past few years to invigorate and deepen my tarot knowledge (26 years), and have been blown away by the pop tarot attitude, “Here, take this 6 week course, get this certificate, and go out and charge $120/hour because you are fantastic! Believe in your talents!” Astonishing. Not that the meat of the courses were bad at all — quite the opposite. But… hmmmm. Anyway, thank you so very much for bringing up this topic.

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  16. I was born in the 1950s so generationally I am Old Guard, but tarot-wise I use my cards differently, and I was patronized and ridiculed for not being “serious” about tarot when I first began. In my journalling I just did my own thing, even though it wasn’t accepted. Then blogging came around and I found I liked that because no one was nattering away at me about not being “correct” or following the expert path.

    I am of the 50% crowd. It’s 50% generational and 50% a different approach. I find it distasteful that someone can pick up a deck of cards and one month later advertise themselves as a reader and set up a business. That’s just silly.

    I loved reading your post and the comments too. My approach to tarot has always been through art and story. It brought me back to writing and art history and making my own art. I don’t know, is that pop psychology?

    Is knowing about archetypes and how they reflect your feelings and situations pop psychology? I prefer to think of it as mythology, accessing mythology and symbolism, and there is a deep tradition of that in human thought and art. Archetype is an old tradition, a reflection of the human condition, long existing before our current idea of psychology. Because Jung talked about archetypes does that make it pop psychology? I don’t imagine anyone with functioning reason would label Jung as “pop” anything.

    When did philosophy become pop psychology? These labels are tiresome, aren’t they?

    I love history so like to read about tarot history but a few authors assume things that there is no documentation for. I got a bit fed up with experts in that field. We all love a good ramble through speculation but enough is enough.

    I’m like you, I just want to ramble and talk about it, it’s interesting to note and discuss the way people use tarot. I like to see people doing different things as long as I can do what I want with my cards.

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    1. this is not a generational gap thing. Creative people bump up against this mindset throughout time. Anyone or anything that is placed on a pedestal, (revered to the point that it is taboo to question) is harmful; harmful both to the subject placed on the pedestal as well as the person who places them there. This harmful practice is one of the main things that has hindered our species throughout time. Myths are a type of this mindset. At this point in my journey, I question anything that is considered taboo to question. There is no shortcut to the richness that comes from living life. Similar to aged cheeses, wines, there are certain things that happen over time. no way to get around this. So enjoy the fruits that only come with age, but don’t place it on a pedestal. Ultimately each one of us has to stop following other people’s path and tread our own. There are courageous people who do this of every era. I am am 61, but I bump up against the old school dogma so prevalent in Tarot, etc. Most everything written about tarot attempts to give it validity by tying it to its past which is dubious at best.

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  17. Thoughtful, Thoughtful, Thoughtful. My rambles would consider metaphysical education akin to let’s say Renaissance model of apprenticeship, or American Native Medicine Men/women family heritage. This approach successfully kept the woo in the hands of a few, and more power in my opinion. Also, more dangerous for practitioners. I believe all should/could develop access to the spiritual, metaphysical realm on a level that takes it further than say, prayer. But, and here’s the thing, not all have the instinct of knowledge of an interior life. Surely we recognize those who live life with what I see, is reality philosophy. The biggest change I’ve seen is the availability and openness of woo, so for those for which this resonates, the craft is obtainable. jmo

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  18. Occult knowledge is still “hidden” knowledge, it’s just that now it’s hidden in plain sight. Once, in ye olden days of no internet, you had to scour the library and local bookstore, making due with what you could find on the shelves, which unless you lived in a big city was not much. And good luck finding a real live teacher who had both knowledge, and the humility not to take advantage and lord it over you. I’ve been involved for just long enough and am just old enough to remember that time. You had to really want it to undertake that kind of search, and when you finally found it you clung to it. Now, it’s everywhere. So much so that for some newcomers it can be completely overwhelming, they don’t know where to start. Some of these never settle on one path and so spend years dipping a toe in all, never really mastering anything. Others get burned out trying to filter the fluff from the gold. And most, I personally believe, simply give up when they realize how much actual work it is to achieve anything besides the trappings of a practice. So, it may be in plain sight but you still have to really want it. The challenge now is not in finding it, but in zeroing in and sticking with the process.

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    1. Thank you, Alicia. I believe there is and always has been a variety of paths for Tarot readers and students of the occult and dozens of entry points. There are scholars and lone practitioners and ceremonial magicians and those in the “helping professions.” Just because a person starts in one place (with one approach) doesn’t mean that they’ll stay there all their life. We are lucky to have so many resources at our fingertips via the internet and Amazon, but it is also a liability because there is way too much. When I first started doing astrology I could only find one book—Llewellyn’s A-to-Z, then I moved to England and joined the Astrological Lodge of the Theosophical Society, heavily influenced by Alan Leo. When I wanted to learn about the Tarot on the Tree of Life the only book I could find was Dion Fortune’s book describing the Sephiroth. Since then I’ve read a lot more, but more importantly, I found teachers who showed me how to walk the paths, and others who introduced me to Kabbalah’s roots in Judaism. Not all fluff is bad, but one still needs to dig to discover the real gold.

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