The Psychology of Tarot Cards

Carl Jung, psychics, and a psychological history of human nature.

I once paid for a reading by a “certified” Tarot card reader. I was at a mental health event, of all places. He claimed that his method was not meant to replace traditional psychotherapy but instead was only an alternative for those who prefer a cheaper and quicker access to universal truths.

“We’re not really reading the future,” he told me. “We are using familiar symbols that have been used for centuries. These symbols are meant to untangle thoughts that you already have and that will help clarify your best options moving forward.” He looked clean and educated: he didn’t seem like a quack. The way he explained it sounded logical. It was still amusing, though, that he claimed to be a “holistic” practitioner — he called himself an “intuitive therapist”, not a “psychic”. According to him, psychic power is just heightened intuition.

As he laid out his superhero-themed cards before me and began to “read” them, I was surprised by how relevant his interpretations were to my private, personal concerns. I’m not saying he was able to magically read my mind; I just think his accuracy was helped by my openness to his method. In other words, I was interpreting the cards with him. His success in reading me was assisted by the obvious physical reactions I was expressing — nodding and widening eyes or crossing arms and knotting my eyebrows. Sometimes, he explicitly asked what the card reminded me of.

His method was not meant to replace psychotherapy but instead was an alternative for those who prefer a cheaper and quicker access to universal truths.

This isn’t so different from seeing bats and bears in Rorschach inkblots, or being able to tell stories from the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT). By using the images of the external world as a reflection of our inner world, we are able to understand our deeper self. When we study our reactions to these primal psychological symbols, we can free ourselves from whatever is unconsciously manipulating our conscious attitudes and behaviors.


Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey. Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc.

Likes psychoanalysis, Negronis, and the occult.