Tarot card use is booming – and Christians aren't talking about it much

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As with many other occult practices, tarot reading is no longer a minority interest held only by new age practitioners. There has been an explosion in interest in the esoteric art, especially from the younger generations.

A combination of visual social media platforms such as Instagram, the decline of traditional religion, along with increased anxiety about the future, appear to have boosted interest in the card-based fortune-telling.

According to a 2021 YouGov survey in the UK, 24% of millennials are positive towards tarot, compared to 14% for older generations. As with other occult phenomena such as witchcraft, modern social media platforms such as TikTok have many videos promoting tarot. They record a boom in interest in the younger generations.

You can even get a tarot reading at London's Selfridges department store (as much as £120 per half hour) where their "team of gifted psychics can host any corporate, media or private function."

Tarot reading is the practice of pulling out cards at random from a deck and interpreting their meaning. In this way the 'reader' claims to tap into psychic abilities to tell the future. Tarot cards have roots in the middle ages, but the first Christian objections to them were about their use for gambling and frivolous game-playing. It was in 18th Century France that they started to be used to predict the future. Ever since, Christians have warned about the use of tarot, or indeed about any attempt to predict the future or encourage psychic abilities. Yet we are in a time when the wisdom of the church is often rejected, and many people are not even aware of its warnings about the occult.

Today, a search on Amazon pulls up tarot decks and how-to guides that have thousands of positive reviews. Occult and "esoteric" bookshops report a surge in demand over the past decade.

"It seems that everyone is doing it now," says Mark Pilkington, co-author of Stars, Fools and Lovers: a lavishly illustrated history of tarot, in a pre-lockdown article in the Evening Standard.

"People are both seeking to escape the horrors of the endless news cycle, and also to engage in off-screen imaginative practices. In truth tarot has never really gone away as such. It's just having a visible phase, alongside a wider rediscovery of magic and occultism by a generation that grew up with Harry Potter and friends."

The fear and isolation of the pandemic seems to have accelerated interest.

"If you look throughout history, whenever there has been some sort of upheaval or some sort of collective anxiety in society, interest in psychics has shot up," James Alcock, a professor of psychology at York University in Canada, told the New York Times.

"The reason is simple ... people experience a lack of control and anxiety. We'd all like the pandemic to end."

At one time a rise in 'new atheism' seemed to be reducing interest in anything to do with the supernatural, as well as religion. Perhaps this is why the modern use of tarot doesn't necessarily involve paranormal beliefs. In a recent article by the usually atheistic newspaper The Guardian, tarot was presented as more of a self-help therapeutic tool than something psychic.

Modern tarot reader Jessica Dore told the newspaper, "you're not predicting the future – you're really just exploring, looking at the images and activating the imagination ... I came to tarot needing to figure out how to take better care of myself, how to check in with myself, to show up for myself."

Christian teachers are usually very clear that tarot is a dangerous practice and is not for believers. In the 80s and 90s the evangelical world was very vocal about the dangers of occult practice, for example this sermon from John Piper in 1981, using scripture such as Deuteronomy 18:9–12 and Acts 19:18 to argue that Christians must stay clear from witchcraft. The Pentecostal movement was also very vocal against using occult practices.

However more recently there seems to have been less said. A search for tarot on 'The Gospel Coalition' website – an important source for many conservative evangelicals - doesn't bring up much information. Nor on the mainstream evangelical 'Christianity Today,' or the more progressive 'Relevant' magazine. However Charisma, the US voice of the charismatic movement, does warn against the occult and has reported on the recent rise in occult practice.

Pope Francis has spoken out against the use of tarot. He said in 2019: "True faith means abandoning oneself to God who makes himself known not through occult practices but through revelation and with gratuitous love... how is it possible, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you go to a sorcerer, a fortune teller? Magic is not Christian! These things that are done to predict the future or predict many things or change situations in life are not Christian. The grace of Christ can bring you everything. Pray and trust in the Lord."

In recent years, there has been concern that some Christians are even advocating for or using tarot themselves. Some use cards that have a similar look to tarot, but contain Scriptures or Bible stories, such as the "Jesus Deck," and go to New Age festivals to minister to people there. This has generated concern, but the practitioners say they are not trying to predict the future, but instead evangelise about Jesus to new age people in a way that interests them.

"The cards we use are our own, and are not tarot nor remotely similar to tarot," said Ken and Jenny Hodge in a letter to Bethel Church that followed criticism of their association. "We know tarot cards are very dangerous and highly discourage it."

What might be missing, for a younger generation that has little contact with Christianity, is a clear explanation of why it's a bad idea to engage in tarot. Is the only reason that the Bible says not to, and that we should trust in God more? Can we give a more detailed explanation and warning, that millennials would listen to and understand? For example, there are many former spiritualists and new agers who can tell their personal stories of the dangers. However it happens, talking about it rather than avoiding it seems to be essential.