Does tarot truly predict the future? There are perhaps still preconceptions among the public-at-large that this is the purpose for which the cards are applied. The idea that the cards reveal one's irrefutable destiny seems to be increasingly rejected, however, among long-time practitioners — at least, in its most literal form, wherein exotic-looking fortune-tellers forecast tall, dark strangers entering one's life, or an impending financial windfall for which the querent need only wait patiently to appear.
Perhaps the largest contributing factor to broadening one's view of how the cards function is the question of Free Will. If it is possible to predict the future with absolute certainty, then it follows that Free Will plays little, if any, part in shaping the lives we live. The idea that our existence is nothing more than a “role” we walk through, following some sort of unalterable script created for us by the universe years or eons ago, is a generally distasteful concept that, if true, would essentially render us powerless, and our lives meaningless. It seems more productive to assume that we have at least some measure of control over our lives, and that the decisions we make are our own and have a real and true effect on shaping our experience.
Thus, many contemporary tarot practitioners have taken a modified approach to interpreting the message of the cards. We do not say that tarot predicts the future, but rather, that it shows us one (or more) possible future(s). Tarot allows us to reflect on where we've been, and how our experience and attitudes may be influencing where we are headed. If we like what we see, we can continue forward, secure in the knowledge that we are on the "right track." If not, we can reflect upon our current situation and consider what we can do to alter our course to give ourselves the best chance for a brighter tomorrow. While this certainly isn't the approach taken by all readers all of the time, it does appear to be a general philosophy that is being embraced, in various forms, by an increasing number of tarotists.
Free Will: Can We Truly Control Our Own Future?
Let's reexamine, then, the issue of Free Will. Although the question of whether or not human Free Will actually exists has been debated for ages, I would guess that the majority of us would argue that it does. Whether or not we actually take advantage of this gift is a separate question; our experience seems to suggest that Free Will must exist to some degree or another. The question of just how far we can exercise our Free Will and become "masters of our own destiny," however, is a topic that has once again been thrust to the forefront of popular culture. Several years ago, the tremendously successful video The Secret led a revival of interest in creative visualization techniques that have been practiced in various forms throughout history. The idea that we can mold our destiny to a very fine degree by focusing on goals and desired outcomes as vividly as possible, of course, is neither a new nor a particularly secret concept. But it is an idea that currently appears to be gaining a more widespread acceptance with the Man (and Woman) on the Street. It is an idea that not only affirms the existence of Free Will, but extends its range of effect to the creation of necessary resources and opportunities that allow our Will to operate as broadly as conceivably possible.
The Secret, in my opinion, highly oversimplifies the process, focuses too much on shallow material acquisitions, and seems to implicitly blame all ill circumstances as resulting from a person's inability to “visualize” a more beneficial outcome. (Think about it: did the Katrina, Maria, or Michael disasters occur simply because everyone in the affected regions failed to imagine a hurricane not happening?). Nevertheless, I don't find myself in disagreement with the basic premise of that film. We exercise our Free Will when we make a decision and take action -- and in most cases, the thought precedes the action. The more clearly we know what we want, the more precisely we can mentally define a desired outcome, the more likely we are to bring that outcome into being. Whether one believes this results from mystical, psychological, or scientifically-definable processes is irrelevant.
Certainly it's fair to say that our dreams are our own. Free Will is perhaps nothing more than the process of giving ourselves permission to allow those dreams to come true.
Exercising Our Free Will Through the Tarot
If we accept the premise, then, that we might be more effective in “getting what we want” -- or, in more contemporary terms, in creating our own realities — by mentally defining and / or visualizing our objectives with determination and clarity, then perhaps we, as students of tarot, have the process backwards. Traditionally, we lay out the cards, and try to establish what they are telling us... what they mean, how we react to them, what possibilities they suggest to us. But if the future is not "set in stone" — if our Free Will allows us to choose a new path, regardless of past or present circumstance — then do we even need to spend time contemplating what the cards tell us might happen? Can we not instead consider what we'd like to have happen, and use the tarot to help us solidify our mental state, thus laying the groundwork for the future we'd prefer to have manifest?
I'll admit to playing a bit of the "Devil's Advocate" here. In truth, I'm not at all suggesting that we abandon the employment of traditional methods of reading the cards to examine current circumstances and explore future possibilities. It is a healthy process; without an adequate amount of information and reflection, we can't always say with confidence what it is that we do want. Nonetheless, I'm not being entirely flippant, either. When the time comes to make a decision — when we've researched and reviewed, reflected and ultimately selected — it doesn't strike me as being entirely productive to repeatedly turn to the cards and ask "should really I do this?" or "will this work?". There comes a time when we have to stop second-guessing ourselves and move forward. When that time comes, perhaps tarot's role should shift from advisor to implementation assistant. Such a shift would allow us to use the cards to help us visualize our objective, exercising our Free Will through their images and shaping our reality by consciously and deliberately employing their archetypes, rather than allowing the archetypes to work subconsciously or psychically through us.
What I am suggesting is that when we have selected a specific "future" we wish to make manifest, that we do not shuffle the face-down cards and deal them "randomly" into our spread. Rather, we turn the deck face up, and intentionally select the cards we want to see in each position, placing them into the spread to create the “reading” that defines the outcome we hope to achieve. Through this process, we utilize tarot's archetypes to help us visualize, and thereby assist in bringing about, the specific future we want for ourselves.
So, if we have been put in charge of an important project, and want to inspire loyalty and cooperation from our coworkers, we may lay the "Strength" card in the "How others see me" position, or perhaps the court card that best represents these qualities to us. Feeling restless, and want to do a little traveling? Perhaps the "Six of Swords" in the "Near Future" position will be the catalyst to sending us on our way. The possibilities seem only limited by our relationship with the cards and our imaginations.
The point of this essay is simple: for the practicing tarotist, the cards have the potential to provide not only a method for examining the future, but a way for actually assisting us in shaping our future. Once we have decided on a course of action, we can lay out the cards selectively and deliberately to further turn our dreams into realities. Through this process, the question of whether or not tarot can predict the future becomes a moot point. When we set out to create the future we want, confident in our ability to succeed, then we will foresee the results even before we begin.