(RNS) — Brittany Muller didn’t intend to invite Christianity back into her life when she began using tarot cards as part of her daily spiritual practice nearly a decade ago. As a teenager and a faithful Catholic, she had even been told that using the cards could invite evil spirits.
But after leaving college, where she said her faith had become a casualty of the same doubts people have wrestled with for thousands of years, Muller found in tarot the ritual and reflection she missed in religion. Eventually, she found her way back to Christianity — and Christianity and the cards turned out to be, she writes in her new book “The Contemplative Tarot: A Christian Guide to the Cards,” a “natural pair.”
Muller, now 32, hopes to grant readers the same permission she gave herself to incorporate new spiritual practices into old beliefs.
“I think a lot of Christians and people who grew up in Christianity are interested in new spiritual practices, and I think that tarot can be a little bit scary to people because of its associations with the occult,” she said.
“I hope this book makes people feel like this is a safe thing to explore.”
“The Contemplative Tarot” explains the history of tarot and includes short reflections on the Christian imagery and themes of each of the 78 cards in a tarot deck, accompanied by a Bible verse and questions for further exploration.
Muller spoke to Religion News Service about how she uses the cards and what she tells fellow Christians with concerns about the practice.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You write, “While tarot led me back to Christianity, writing a book about tarot led me specifically back to Catholicism.” Can you talk about that journey?
It was such a humbling experience. Catholicism can be very dogmatic, and I was taught that tarot was an occult tool and just not something you wanted to mess with. During a time in which I was not interested in going to church or reading the Bible or talking to a priest or a minister, I was pulling tarot cards every day that really reflected a surprisingly Christian worldview. There are tarot cards named after Christian virtues like justice and temperance. There are tarot cards that are based around biblical ideas, like judgment or the devil.
So, tarot led me back to Christianity by being surprisingly Christian. It gave me a space to sort of reengage with faith and with Christian ideas in a way that felt safe to me that the institutional church did not.
In the process of writing the book, I did a lot of research that involved a lot of theology. I read a lot of papal encyclicals. I read the writings of saints. I read the lives of the saints. It helped me admit to myself that I really missed the faith of my childhood, even though I don’t love everything about the Catholic Church and I don’t always feel super comfortable being a Catholic. I also feel like that’s OK. I can be Catholic and not always feel comfortable in it, but there is still a place for me in the church.
Why does tarot have, as you say in the book, a “bad reputation”?
Tarot originated in Renaissance Italy as a card game for Italian nobles and had no association with the occult. It wasn’t used for divination or fortunetelling. It was just a card game. That’s where a lot of the Christian imagery comes from, because obviously Renaissance Italy was a very Catholic culture.
It wasn’t until several hundred years later, during the occult revival in France in the 18th century, that tarot got picked up by occultists who fabricated a history of tarot as the key to this lost ancient wisdom from Egypt. I think that became tarot’s association for a long time, even into the present.
How would you answer Christians who are wary of tarot because of this reputation or who point to passages of Scripture that warn against divination and witchcraft?
I try really hard to be respectful. I’ve had so many conversations about this with other Christians. There are some people who I will talk to, and I will explain to them, “Here’s the history of tarot,” and they’ll say, “I understand all that, but tarot obviously still has occult associations, so I just don’t feel comfortable with it.” And to those people, I would say that’s fine. If you’re not comfortable with it, it’s totally OK.
But, from my perspective, it doesn’t have occult origins, and so it doesn’t have to be used in a way that doesn’t align with Christian teaching on things like witchcraft or divination or fortunetelling.
What are some of the different ways one can use the cards? You use them in prayer, which may be a little different than how others might think of using them.
There’s been sort of a revival of tarot just in general in the last five or 10 years, and it’s been really interesting to see the different ways people use tarot now. Even the non-Christians I know who use tarot rarely use it for any sort of divination. Most people I know who read tarot now, even people who are not Christian, use it as a tool for self-reflection. I would liken it more to therapy than fortunetelling.
That’s very similar to the way that I use tarot. I liken it to Visio Divina, a contemplative prayer practice that translates to “divine seeing.” It involves praying with images — to look at an image, to insert yourself into the image, to spend time with an image in contemplation and to see if God is speaking to you in some way through the image.
Why do you think there is so much interest in tarot right now?
A lot of people have either left organized religion or have never been a part of organized religion. Even those who don’t want to be a part of organized religion for any wild number of reasons still want some connection to a spiritual life, and tarot is one way to do that, especially the way that tarot is being used now as a tool for exploring one’s inner self, rather than trying to predict one’s future. I do think it really comes from a desire for a deeper spirituality.
Are you seeing more Christians interested in it, too?
Yeah, I have definitely noticed this on social media and talking to people in real life. Maybe this is just the people I interact with, but I have certainly noticed a real openness to different spiritual practices — things like tarot, but also things like yoga and the Enneagram. I feel like I know so many people who are really interested in sort of exploring their relationship with God through different spiritual avenues, whether they are part of organized religion or not.