A Commentary Response to “Tarot and Socioeconomic Class”

This post is long winded. And it's political. You are forewarned.

 

This post originally started as a Comment on another website in response to two blog posts (actually a video blog and a blog) that I—apparently—had a lot to say about. But after I reached 6 pages in a Word document, I realized that it wasn't fair to conscript that much space on anyone else's blog. So I have instead posted my comments here to my own blog space, and hope that people will find it and continue the discussion—I feel a bit passionate about the subject, and feel like it ought to be talked about. 

 

So to prep for my comments below, and essential as a precursor introduction to the discussion, I'd like to refer you to the two original postings, the first—and generator of the topic—is a vlog by Thorn Mooney [1] about "Paganism, Tarot, and Class":

The second reference is a responsorial to Thorn's blog by Benebell Wen [2] at her own tarot blog website. The post, dated February 27, 2015, can be found here…, or by clicking on the screen shot of Benebell's website:

Benebell Wen's Blog post: Tarot and Socioeconomic Class

What follows is my comment, interjection, contribution to the discussion:

 

I am entirely grateful for this discussion, and therefore to both Thorn and Benebell for addressing the topic. (Sorry that I've just recently discovered it now so long after its original posting.) This is the kind of topic that I wish all those seasonal "blog hop" circles would address rather than—no offense, but...—another fluff round of trivialities like how the "bad" cards make everyone feel. It's important to note that Thorn's observations are the real stuff of our world—the world we're trying to make better through our actionable choices. This is the stuff that edges into grander economists' theories and trends and politics about the cyclical socio- and economic inequity that pervades/affects/is inflicted upon society after society, and generation after generation. This is the stuff that tarot is and ought to be about—the tarot, after all, being delineated into different class systems itself (Swords: nobility and aristocracy; Cups: clergy and church or organized institutions; Coins: merchant or middle class; Wands: peasantry, fife, or poverty class).

 

I have so much to say about this discrepancy between socio-economic classes and the variance in Maslow-type needs, and as Benebell notes, it is rather a subject and topic worthy of a dissertation, or far greater investigation and case study application. Being a verbose writer myself, I sympathize and am in the same club with Benebell when I apologize in advance for the length of the diatribe I am about to inflict in this posting space. But there are many facets of this topic that really deserve to be addressed and between which connections ought to be emphasized...

 

Thorn discovered an interesting correlation—which on the surface seems like a contradiction—that larger, established religious institutions (let's just say the Catholic Church because of its largess and extensive programs and geography) seem to have a much more survivable network of social and sustainability services precisely because of their organizational character. Whereas those who affiliate themselves more with the Wiccan and coven traditions seem to have less access to such resources. This makes a sort of immediate sense in that the Cathoic Church has much more socially-advocated support and a long-standing tradition with which people are [more] comfortable approaching and using. (Please note: I am not making any judgments AT ALL, solely socio-economic and historiographical observation). Whereas the wiccan community has rather been a persecuted class through much of history, demonized, and repressed. On the surface it is no wonder that those in the wiccan communities are more hardscrabble about the social, economic, legal, and professional services they are able to acquire. Frankly, lots of case studies and research HAS been done on repressed minority classes and access to health and other service functions. As an example: Gay men are 20-50 times more likely to develop various cancers for the sole reason that as a persecuted, demoralized, and demonized class of people, gay and lesbian people often feel shame about revealing their sexuality to their doctors; thus primary care providers do not have a "full spectrum" picture of the [gay or lesbian] patient in order to provide proper preventative care, or to make educated guesses about more relevant symptoms associated with same-sex health. [3] Studies have also shown that lesbian women overall are twice as likely to report poorer health following cancer diagnosis. Reasons include poor patient-provider communication and health care system factors. Also, lesbian women generally are faced with greater stress factors, which in turn makes them more likely to choose unhealthy options like smoking and drinking at higher rates than the rest of the population in order to cope or combat the higher incidences of stress they encounter. Lesbian women are also much more likely to delay seeking treatment for abnormalities because of the stigma attached to their sexuality and the potential shame of having to reveal their sexuality to a health care doctor. [4]

 

It is subtleties and long-term effects like these that really are lost on most people—the original problems (higher incidences of cancer and deaths) exist because of initial repression of the minority group; the effects (continued hardship economically for the repressed group as they try to pay for medical care, experience loss of work due to health, and sustain a loss of social networks as friends evaporate due to being uncomfortable around sick people, etc.) are prolonged because the repressed minority group has no advocacy; and longer-term trends (greater death rate among LGBTQ persons, increased healthcare burdens on the rest of the population) are exacerbated because the public is apathetic towards the demise of the repressed minorty group. I am, of course, using the LGBTQ community as an example here, partly because I have familiarity with the group, and partly because empirical evidence through case studies has been proven. However, one could substitute ANY minority or repressed class of people into this formulation and its own or similar repercussive, deleterious effects would still be evident—including if one were to substitute members of the wiccan or coven-affiliated communities, but also other groups of individuals who fall through the cracks of our society: those people with mental illness, or with substance abuse issues, those facing PTSD via war, rape, abuse, etc.

 

That said, let's talk about how and why it is that Catholic organizations appear to have "better" social service network systems in place. Er…, yes… it is definitely due to the largess of the community that affords greater organizational commitment to creating services—we're talking global here, and a really, really large central bank. But what other reasons? Can I suggest that the mission of the Church is to advocate for the poor and less fortunate? It was hard to tell a lot of the time before Pope Francis finally moved to the high chair, but if anything, Francis has reminded followers that the Cathoic Church is a church of the poor, that he would rather that the church had the smell of poverty and the streets than of gilt-and-gemstone-encrusted pomp-and-circumstance (paraphrased).

Wisdom as espoused by President Jimmy Carter

Wisdom as espoused by President Jimmy Carter

In truth, despite the apparent wealth and conservatism of the contemporary Catholic community, the New Testament is all about the renunciation of the worldly, about a kind of simplicity. Jesus preferred to associate himself with beggars, villains, the sexually libidinous, the destitute, the diseased and sick, and the dying, the crass, the possessed, than he did with the scribes, Pharisees, the chief priests, and high-ranking members of the Temple. He was doing his own ground maneuvers with the lowest of the lowly.

 

How is this relevant to the topic at hand? I suppose I feel like if one dismisses and denies the poor, the poor of heart, the impoverished, the lonely, or the demonized lower classes or minority groups, then what is the point of the tarot? What does one do with the tarot? Does it become as shallow and routine as attending church services every Easter and Christmas so that one "appears" to be a good Catholic? Do we treat it like attending a pagan potluck every once in a while just for the company and to be able to feel a part of a larger, affirming community? Or are we listening to the whispers of Wisdom that seep from the cards to live a truly sacramental and interactive existence with every level of our communities and environment?

 

…And I feel like it is important to emphasize that at its historical roots the tarot is a book of knowledge, it is a tool for learning how to make wise and virtuous choices… It's a pauper's bible with lessons no less affirming, revelatory, and illuminating than the parables that Jesus used to try to explain how to relate to our fellow human beings.

 

"'Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous…answer[ed] him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the King…answer[ed] them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'"  (Gospel of Matthew 23:34-40, NIRV-edition)

 

I have again and again read statements and heard tarot readers make all attempts to control, to mold, and pre-configure the "type" of clients to whom they cater and serve…or accept. There could be a whole debate about that, frankly. And how can we decry certain readers the opinion or preference to manage what class of people they choose for whom to read? I get that seasoned tarot readers have "earned" the right to be choosy and read for a select audience. I also get that women readers are vulnerable to sexist indignancies and have the right to feel safe in a reading environment.

 

But I also feel like, "blessed are the readers who see past all the social demoralization of classes; blessed are the readers who get into the 'grit' in order to make whatever meagre dent is possible in the slog of life that is suffered and sustained by the demonized, the repressed, the minority-classified, the desperate." It takes a whole different skill set, and sometimes a whole other patois, to be able to interact with the grit-prone and hardscrabble classes. (And I make no bones or denials about that.)

 

That said, are we using the tarot in its best-practice possibilities? Are we following the advice—ourselves—of the wisdom of the tarot? Are we following best spiritual practice? (Are we harming none? Are we doing unto others as we would have them do unto us? Are we doing for the least of our brethren as the parables entreat us?)

 

I suppose—personally—I feel that being a tarot professional is not just about learning the card definitions, and being able to identify them by rote, or even making a story out of a several-card-sequence. Taking responsibility to care for another individual—in the case of reading tarot for a client—entails, at minimum, the provision to be an empathetic, objective ear, entails taking the responsibility to be a certain kind of ethicist. People—clients—deserve that respect, regardless of socio-economic class.

 

So in the case of clients [who] are posing questions like "I don't have any money to afford a lawyer and my ex-husband has filed for full custody of my kids and the court hearing is tomorrow…What is going to happen? Am I going to lose my kids?"  or  "My child is physically ill and we can't afford healthcare. What do you see happening to us? …I respect that Thorn makes the realization that "[She is] obviously not qualified to offer legal or medical advice." however, that is where the ethical standard for the statement should stop.

 

The tactical move to be made if a client persists in "repeatedly put[ting Mooney] in the position where [she is] asked to provide input, and technically [that input] is not from [her], it's from the cards…" is not to continue allowing the client to disillusion themselves with fortunetelling, but to rephrase the question into something that the cards can answer ethically, empathetically, and sustainably (meaning something the client can take away with her and with which she can make future choices from a moral high ground).

 

So the question isn't "What is going to happen in this custody case?"  and it isn't "Am I going to lose my children?" because as an ethical tarot reader, you can't answer those questions. The question, rather, should be repurposed or recalibrated to ask "What can I do differently [based on my poor choices in the past or my poor misfortune previous to the problem] that may provide me with the opportunity to maintain my connection with my children?"

 

I'm not saying that it's going to be a necessarily easy recalibration during the process of a [time-limited] reading session, especially with a panicked mother at her wits-end and last-hopes. But to be a truly ethical reader, it is necessary. This is also why it's ethical to have a list available at-the-ready of social service resources. In this case a list of family law lawyers or law firms who do pro bono work, or only take payment if the client wins. There are also other social services that provide legal assistance, and the client could probably be directed to the local women's shelter (which is certain to have a larger list of legal references for low-income mothers). The point is, in addition to knowing the ins and outs of the tarot and how to read cards, and in addition to ethically making sure the question is something you can address, you also have to know your resources. Like any adept, one has to be aware of everything happening simultaneously and still have the wherewithal to guide the client and the reading down the path of best practice and ethical standards. (Which—aside—is not to say that Thorn doesn't do this or isn't capable of this.)

 

THAT said, even though Thorn, Benebell, and myself have attempted to interpret distinctions in socio-economic status that seem evident between individuals who subscribe to Wiccan or witchcraft traditions, those who ascribe to "New Age" metaphysical inspiration, and those of Catholic or larger institutional traditions—either through Maslovian necessities or through minority designation—I think that it would be faulty to limit causality to those two arenas. There are a bazillion other factors that can contribute and affect socio-economic disparity, and we would be foolish to try to list all of them here. The point being, I think, that so many political, economic, and cultural factors are so inextricably intertwined and connected as to create causality of a greater socio-economic make-up of our [American] society.

 

Case in point, I live in the an area of Vermont that is much more "blue-collar" and conservative than the rest of the state. There are many reasons that the area has developed this way: The area was originally the marble-quarrying capital of the world, and there was a huge influx of European immigrants in the 19th and 20th century in order to support that industry here. Other businesses eventually developed because the labor was so prevalently available when quarrying went on the wane. At a point in history, aviation parts became a major regional commodity and export. But these industries—hard labor jobs—don't require higher educational degrees; they are, by definition, "blue-collar." And so a certain type of character was built and established in the community. People who were satisfied with a labor lifestyle stayed to work in the industry here, and those interested in exploring further educational opportunities or who wanted to learn more about the greater world… simply left. The character, then, of the area in some senses self-perpetuates itself. And over time—decades and decades—that character becomes self-fulfilling and even more pervasive (which is not to say that there aren't creative people here; this is a generalization for hypothetical purposes). The thing that one hears from politicians in this particular region is a relentless nostalgia for how the city "used to be." As [literal] conservatives [to change], they implore the population to vote for them as an act of going back to some golden age of sweet, innocent, trouble-free time where people didn't have to lock their cars or their homes, there wasn't any drug problem that anyone knew about (or cared to acknowledge), and for entertainment children grew up running through green pastures and went to sock-hops, and drank malted at the Woolworth's. But dreaming about such a fantasy past and having a perpetual nostalgic purview doesn't raise taxes for infrastructure repair, or help unravel the underground drug trafficking that might be infiltrating the high school, or keep everyone out of debt because health care costs are running out of control, or show kids that there's more to life than making airplane parts at the local GE plant.

 

Obviously, I am making some generalizations here. But my point, other than to slam conservative apathy and ineffective longing for an idealized past (that was likely just as much a fantasy then as it is now), is to say, that a place—no less than factors like religious affiliation or minority status, or trauma experiences—can affect socio-economic class relative to a university town or a greater metropolitan city. Yes, religious affiliation, minority status, past traumas, place, and other factors can all exacerbate one's socio-economic status—and that's what the vastly eclectic tangents within this post commentary are meant to indicate. More and more cultural, political, and global economic factors (hosts and hosts of other factors) conspire and converge and synchronize to produce the kinds of stresses and despairs and Maslow-deficient livelihoods that bring desperate people into tarot readings. And we should be up in arms about that.

 

THAT said, what truly concerns me most is the clearer and clearer recognition of the disparities between socio-economic classes overall. I think Thorn's observation is a small facet, a hint, of a greater national crisis—it raises alarm bells. If we aren't concerned about the repercussions of the hoarding of funds by the 1% and the ever-growing-by-leaps-and-bounds poverty class, well… I'm just saying. Soon everybody we read for is gonna be a part of that hardscrabble class before you know it. If it's important to be ethical about reading for clients on a one-on-one basis, don't think that it's any less important to speak up and be vocal about the injustice of socio-economic inequality at its grander level. So thank you and bless you, Thorn, for being observant of it, and being vocal about it. It's important.

 

We have to be advocates for the disadvantaged and less fortunate than us, whether it's lending our ears and empathy to clients in a reading, whether it's by voting, being activists, sacrificing our own comforts for others, or being vocal about the injustices we see in the world. These are all things that the knowledge and wisdom of the tarot has to offer… if we are true students and proselytizers of it. The tarot was meant to teach. So maybe a better term than 'proselytization' is 'pedagogy'—we should be pedagogues.

 

When the scales of Justice are grossly tipped, we are called to action.
When the advice of Temperance is dismissed with scorn, we are incensed.
When the lion of Fortitude cannot be calmed, it is time to roar.
When Prudence cannot be found… it's time to find her.

 

 

 

[1]  THORN MOONEY's pursuit of tarot has been further inspired by her rigorous study in a variety of related fields, including contemporary Pagan and witchcraft traditions, Western esotericism, Qabalah, and anthropology. She holds an MA in religious studies from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with concentrations in American religions and ethnography. She has presented at national academic conferences (including the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion), lectured unversity classes, and spoken at local Pagan events. She is a degree student at the Tarot School in New York, under the guidance of Wald and Ruth Amberstone, and a member of the American Tarot Association. You can find her tarot blog here…, her witch, magick, and paganism blog here…, and her YouTube channel here...

[2]  BENEBELL WEN (a pseudonym) is the author of Holistic Tarot: An integrative Approach to using Tarot for Personal Growth published by North Atlantic Books. She is a certified tarot master by way of the Tarot Certification Board of America and is a long-time practitioner of the art. Wen is also a California and New York licensed attorney. She works as a corporate legal counsel for a venture capital firm in the Bay Area of California. In addition to tarot, Wen is a feng shui consultant, I Ching practitioner, numerologist, and astrology enthusiast. You can find Benebell's tarot blog here...

[3]  Boehmer, U. Cancer, online, May 9,2011. News release, Cancer. National cancer instate, Office of Cancer Survivorship, web site: "U.S. Prevalence Estimates."
(I could list an extensive litany of websites and studies here, but to avoid length and possible pop-up windows, please determine your own search criteria by Googling: "case studies: gay and lesbian incidence cancer rates.")

[4]  For a personal account of how a lesbian person's psyche can be affected by the health care provider system, and the presentation of more risk factors, there is an account (although somewhat dated) on the cancer network that provides more insight: http://www.cancer-network.org/media/pdf/Sexual_Orientation_and_Cancer.pdf/

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