I was sitting at a cafe the other day and found myself observing an unintentional social experiment. Across from me was a shelf of free books that people could take and read while at the shop. Amongst the books, many of which were by John Gresham, was a happy-looking, yellow volume on Astrology. As people stood by the counter waiting for their coffee they'd pick up one of the books for a quick browse. By far, the most popular was the book on astrology.
Each time I looked up I saw a different man pick up the book. One even brought it to the table to give it a quick perusal. All of them had a sheepish, furtive look to them, as if they were loathe to be seen in public appearing interested in astrology. As soon as they saw me looking, they put it away.
I see a similar phenomenon when I read tarot at larger public events. People will walk by my table, looking over at me shyly. A lot of people feel nervous when approaching anything that could be percieved as "woo woo" or esoteric. It's understandable and I've been there before. We're swimming in a society that values the rational above all else. Expressing interest in something that's not 100% cut-and-dry makes us feel open to ridicule.
And yet we're still interested. We feel drawn to pick up a book even if we'll put it down quickly if someone notices. Or to read our horoscopes, even seek out a tarot reading. I can't tell you how many times I've been offering readings in public to have someone sit down before me and immediately proclaim, "I don't believe in this." I always have to laugh to myself (internally and subtly, of course) because despite this loud proclamation of disbelieve, there they are, sitting across from a tarot reader, cash in hand.
All this makes me think of the poster behind Agent Mulder's desk in the X-Files that reads, "I Want to Believe." As we can all vouch for, life is a strange, delightful, and confusing experience. We all have personal knowledge of its mysterious nature, things that tell us not all meaning lives on the surface of our lives. There's things we don't know, dreams and mysteries to explore.
Unfortunately, there aren't as many avenues to express the joyous and confounding mysteries of life. And I think we miss it. We miss ways to tap into what we don't know, to engage with our love of symbols, stories, and signs. So I can't begrudge anyone their nervousness and justificaitons around esoteric practices like tarot and astrology. I've been there myself - despite being a deeply spiritual person in practice and belief, I found myself broadcasting a hyper-rational and intellectual persona because I felt vulnerable appearing spiritual.
Sometimes the word "spiritual" can feel so general it's overwhelming. "If I read tarot does that mean I believe in spirit guides/reincarnation/ghosts etc.?" Again, I think that because we've neglected this important part of humanity in our current society, all these beliefs have been unfortunately lumped under one big, broad term. To answer clearly, no. Reading tarot doesn't require any adherence to a school of thought, religion, or dogma. That's why I love it so much. Sure, it combines well with all of the above, but at it's purest, tarot is simply a tool with which we can explore what's not immediately visible to us.
So I have a great deal of empathy for anyone feeling anxious about dipping their toes into the "woo pool." No, getting a tarot reader doesn't make you anything other than a person curious about examining their life creatively and, if you're comfortable with the term, spiritually. I welcome anyone to my tarot table, wherever they're at in their journey. Tenderness and all.