Most of us wish that, from time to time in our lives, we could know what is going to happen before the actual event takes place. We wonder about much more than we can ever know. In order to try to satisfy those wonderings and uncertainties, “Fortune Telling’, in one form or another, has persisted throughout recorded human history as a means of answering the questions we are unable to figure out for ourselves in the here and now or feel the need to know, in advance, about the future.
The process of ‘foretelling’ is one that would be psychologically regarded as ‘projective intuition.’ As a rule, it is no more reliable than opening a fortune cookie or asking a stranger on the street about what will happen next in your life. There are, however, many traditions involving specific tools and devices, techniques and atmospheres which have survived over many centuries and remain believed in by many – and remain a sometimes very good source of income for those who practice them.
A couple of words of explanation about what I have termed “projective intuition.” Intuition is something we all have. It is the ability to somehow know things in the absence of actual data or direct experience. Often characterized as a ‘feeling’ we have about something or someone, it is an inner phenomenon by which we believe we can know things in a more esoteric, feeling and less objectified way. I don’t know if intuition is a ‘real’ thing, but I do understand that most people believe in it and this belief, in and of itself, gives intuition a broadly accepted reality amongst much of humankind. Some regard it as the “Sixth Sense.”
The projective piece has more to do with how the intuition is utilized in the process of divination. The actual concept of projection involves taking something from within ourselves – a thought, belief, memory, motive, etc. – and ascribing it to another person. We are, quite literally, projecting a piece of ourselves onto another person when we do this. In combination, projection and intuition are the primary tools of those who claim to be able to tell you your future or reveal to you deeper realities about yourself than you were aware of – especially after only one or two meetings!
Devices are used to create ambience that supports the semi-mystical experience to be offered. Certain objects and tools-of-the-trade tend, as well, to lend the suggestion of both substance and validity to the appearance of the activity because the objects themselves have long histories of use in this manner and suggest, by their very history and presence, some added legitimacy and authenticity of the process. Crystal balls, Tarot cards, Ouija boards, tea leaves, lines on a person’s hand, bumps on their heads and candles in darkened rooms …. There are many. Tarot cards, in particular, are appealing and convincing to many because of their visual attractiveness, apparent complexity and the ‘skill’ it appears to require of a reader to interpret what they mean.
To single them out as an example of this phenomenon of seeking knowledge where there is often not yet any to be had, I will discuss the Tarot deck, its history and its use for just a bit. Though earlier versions of them are inferred by references in old documents, the first documented (physically recovered) deck was known to be in use in 1390. There have been and remain many, many versions of the Tarot deck. While the illustrations and suit names may differ dramatically, most types of Tarot decks have a few things in common.
Unlike a modern playing card deck that has 4 suits, 52 cards and maybe a couple of Jokers, a Tarot deck most usually contains a total of 78 cards. 22 of them are dubbed the Major Arcana and include illustrations of archetypal images, #1 is generally some version of The Magician, #2, the High Priestess, #8, Strength, #14, Temperance, #16, the Tower and #0 the Fool for examples. They are reminiscent of characters in medieval morality plays like “Everyman” where various human qualities, characteristics and circumstances are personified by individual characters. Then, there are four suits comprising the Minor Arcana – the names of which may vary – each containing 14 illustrated and sequentially numbered cards (1-10) and topped with four royalty cards (King, Queen, Knight and Page.)
They are used by laying a certain number of them in pre-determined traditional patterns and turning them face up – generally one at a time, while the reader reflects on and then talks about what he/she sees ‘in the cards’ in response to the client’s issue or question. A successful reader will be a person with highly developed intuition (they can get a quick feel for the customer or client and take their intuitive reactions into account as they project their own reactions to the cards into what they choose to say.) The sheer complexity and, often, the visual complexity and beauty of the illustrations, suggest a degree of believability and validity that is often greater than that generated by a simpler device, like a Crystal ball that the ‘reader’ gazes into, or by a Ouija board because it has become, over time, a child’s game or sorts. The reader then proceeds to engage in the ‘projective intuition’ process with the person paying for the experience of being told something they don’t know.
I do not regard all fortune tellers as charlatans. That is to say, I do not believe that they are being deliberately deceptive or are all motivated by greed and the business and ego driven aspects of what they do. What readers who are evilly motivated ‘do’ would be predicated on telling people, deliberately, what they have intuitively deduced that they want to hear and/or whatever will get them to return for yet another reading. On the contrary, I feel that there are ‘readers’ who really believe in the helpfulness of the work they do. These people see fortune/future telling as a service and themselves as modern incarnations of ancient practitioners of these ‘knowing arts.’
However, that being acknowledged, I suspect that even the purely intentioned among them are, perhaps inadvertently, colluding with an understandable but not actually achievable human drive and wish – to know what is going to happen before it does – or to be usefully advised by a stranger about what course of action to take. The cards are pretty and you might want to take a look at a deck to appreciate just how engaging and believable they can become in the hands of the right person.
Many will disagree with me. There are substantial numbers of people who believe in what fortune tellers tell them and/or in the innate power of devices like Tarot cards as tools that, in knowledgeable hands, facilitate the knowing of the inherently unknowable. I don’t expect to change any one’s mind with this brief exposition -just hoping to provide a little food for thought.