Mysticism has, and always will, appeal to writers, musicians and artists. There is a fascination in the occult that draws in even the skeptics among us and it is this fascination that continues to generate interest in the supernatural. Tarot cards are one such example that prove to be particularly popular amongst fans of the extra-mundane. Most of us are already familiar with the traditional stereotype of the Tarot Reader – a mysterious individual in a dark corner of a family funfair, with some of us even familiar with many of the ‘Major Arcana’ – 22 tarot cards that allude to our fate. Though, why do tarot cards in particular, out of all the many psychic practices, continue to appeal to the mainstream art culture and where does this mystical intrigue stem from?
The History of Tarot
Tarot Readings involve the Reader – usually a professional psychic, shuffling and spreading the cards at random and examining the patterns or trends. Each tarot card tells its own story (for instance, the ‘Death’ card signifies an ending), meaning that the spread of cards can be interpreted as a narrative of events, in the present future, specific to the individual. With tarot readings, the way that the cards are spread will depend on what kind of information you have requested from the Reader. The way in which the spread of cards tells a story is central to the popularity of tarot in art and culture – the narrative possibilities of the cards are often intriguing; ‘what happens next?’, ‘what does it all mean?’
Beyond psychic readings and guidance, tarot cards have always held their place as forms of entertainment. Just like standard playing cards, tarot has been used as a form of party entertainment across mainland Europe for centuries. The psychic practice originated in the early 15th century in Italy, and Tarot Games are usually point-trick games, similar to Whist. Even in the days before the game was introduced into contemporary forms of art, the tarot deck has always been prevalent in popular culture.
Tarot’s history and mystical allure mean the game has proven consistently popular across various genres of art and film. To most, tarot card readings classify as a supernatural phenomenon that cannot be explained by science. This ‘fear of the unknown’ means that tarot finds itself a consistent feature in contemporary culture – such as film and television, used to initiate uncertainty, unease, and fear in audiences. A psychic reading is said to foretell a grisly demise, a change in fortune or predict future loves but never reveals with certainty, how. That is left up to the individual to discover.
A memorable interpretation of tarot found in popular culture was in the James Bond classic Live and Let Die, where the character of Solitaire uses the cards to predict the future of her criminal overlord, Mr. Big. In the story, Solitaire inherits her powers from her mother, drawing on one of the popular preconceptions of mysteriously inherited psychic abilities, which sparks interest in narrative and backstory. Yet, she is deceived by a clever twist – Bond urges her to draw from a deck of cards he is holding and she continuously draws ‘The Lovers’, drawing on the attraction to dark entwining of mystery and romance that prevails over most popular culture, even today. While this sudden arc seems to parody tarot, the attitudes of the other characters towards Solitaire’s practice, reflect the seriousness with which tarot cards are treated and the respect for the power of its mystery.
The mystical predictive power and influence of tarot continue to shape culture and paths of real individuals today, as it has for centuries. Its use as a plot device in stories and film illustrates the credence and respect by which the art of reading is held by audiences. As a popular artistic trope, the tarot cards’ power is rooted in the realities that they depict, such as; discovering wealth or love, hope or solace. Though the cards nor the reader can never foretell how this will happen – that is all down to you.