The Non-Linear Nature of the Tarot

The Witches Tarot by Ellen Dugan, the deck I have been using for about a year.

I’ve had a tarot deck for a year or so now. I’ve gotten it out to explore it quite a few times, but for the most part I’ve been overwhelmed by learning card meanings. So I don’t get it out as often as I want to, because I really want to learn how to read Tarot. Most of the decks I have (only a few, really) come with a book that explains what each card means, and it feels cumbersome to pull cards and then have to go through the book to figure out what is being shown in the cards.

Thankfully, I follow a lot of great podcasts by some really wonderful Tarot teachers. I mentioned one of my favorites in my last post, which is Tarot for the Wild Soul by Lindsay Mack. I have really not listened regularly since the summer, so during the last few days I have gone back to listen to episodes that I missed before, and I have not been disappointed by that decision. First of all, episode 40, which was titled Trauma and the Tarot, was absolutely amazing. During this shadow season I have been trying to dive into some of my past trauma and see how it has informed my actions and reactions, and that episode was so helpful when it came to how Tarot can help and other resources and ways to deal with trauma. I highly recommend that you listen to this episode if you have been a victim of trauma and if you are even remotely interested in exploring Tarot.

But it was a statement in episode 41 that really reframed the Tarot for me in a way that made sense. Lindsay Mack was interviewing Christianna Wincek, also known as Crone of Wands on Instagram, and she made a comment about the non-linear nature of the Tarot. They went on to talk about it after the comment was made, and I had to pause for a moment because it was like a lightbulb flashed in my head.

Of course Tarot isn’t linear.

There aren’t a lot of things that are linear when you enter onto this path. Growth is not linear. Creativity is not linear. Learning is not linear. Our seasons of the year are a cycle. When you get away from it all and put away the tech, time becomes non-linear. Our relationships with nature and the world are not linear (or at least they shouldn’t be). So why am I spending all of this time with the Tarot treating it like it is something linear too.

We have been conditioned to think about pretty much everything in a linear fashion. As a former teacher and current administrator, I know that most teachers teach in a linear fashion because that was how they were taught, but I also know from experience that it is not the best way to learn, or even to teach. We are taught to listen and think with our brains, a very linear instrument, and very little with our hearts and guts, which require a non-linear way of looking at things and relating to the world.

So what does linear Tarot look like? Well, it looks like the system that was overwhelming to me: each card has one meaning, which is defined by the book. If you aren’t using the book to get your meanings, you are doing it wrong. This explains why my readings were frustrating and at times did not make a lot of sense. If you ask the cards a question and then go straight by the book for the answer, of course it might not make sense. The cards may not even relate to what you are asking at all if you relate to them this way.

But non-linear Tarot, intuitive Tarot, is a different story. It requires you to look at the card and the symbols present on the card and see how they relate to the question that you have asked. In this way, the card works with the question and can perhaps give you insight into the question that you had not had before. Because of this, the card meanings might slightly change or be shifted depending on their relationship to the question that is asked.

For example, when I was pulling cards yesterday, I asked about a particular experience that was a bit traumatic for me. I was expecting a card that would define the trauma. Instead, I got the Ace of Swords, a card about strength and courage, about movement and going my own way. And I was able to see that, yes, I did show strength during that situation. I did use the book to help with the meaning, but I applied the meaning to the situation and was able to expound on that meaning through journaling, through exploring all of the ways that I showed that strength during that situation. In this way, using the Tarot became a lot like being in a therapy session, something that is talked about in episode 43. The cards were showing me things that I already knew about my situation and what happened, but through the use of the cards I was able to change the way I thought about it. Instead of viewing myself as a victim, I was able to see how much strength and courage I showed during that time, and how I stood up for myself and did not lose my voice in the face of some pretty harsh judgment. And my reading was rich and full of helpful information in a way that has made the cards come alive. I am actually looking forward to doing another reading soon.

One thing that I did try to do with the cards, too, was download Tarot apps. They are great in a pinch, and give me a good way to look up cards the podcasters are talking about on the fly, but I have become disillusioned with using them for readings. For one thing, feeling, touching, and interacting with the physical cards helps build the bond with the cards, which was something that I had heard podcasters say but had never really put much stock into until recently. So while I believe that Tarot apps are a good tool, I don’t think I will be using them nearly as much as I had been before.

I believe it will be fun to build up that relationship with the cards, and I’m looking forward to posting more spreads as I learn about the cards. I hope you enjoy the process as much as I am.