Catholicism and tarot cards, to repurpose Gloria Steinem’s aphorism, go together like fish and bicycles. Or at least that’s what I thought Catholics believed. But not Catholic author Brittany Muller, whose book The Contemplative Tarot is scheduled to be released later this year. For Muller, Tarot is “its own kind of prayer.”
The Washington Post, in December, interviewed Muller, a practicing Catholic who as part of her daily prayer routine not only consults Holy Scripture but also the Rider-Waite deck, which is one of the most popular tarot decks in America. Pulling a daily tarot card, says Muller, “became a nice ritual that replaced what that I got from religion.” She even credits her tarot card use for her family’s recent return to Catholicism six months ago: “I was coming into contact with Christian ideas through a medium that isn’t considered Christian. It showed me very gently how much I missed Christianity.”
For people like Muller, the Christian faith and tarot are compatible. According to her website, Muller’s upcoming book is a “Christian interpretation of the tarot, and a sort of how-to guide for using tarot in contemplative prayer.” Indeed, in order to assuage skeptical Christians who associate tarot with divination (including Pope Francis, who in 2019 condemned such practices), Muller told the WaPo she doesn’t use the cards as a form of fortune telling.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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This raises an interesting question: can objects or practices that have been associated with the occult be repurposed for holy purposes? And what if, as a 2004 Crisis article notes, the objects originated in fifteenth-century Italy as a harmless game that had nothing to do with the occult? Perhaps, rather than flirting with demonic powers, Catholics can reclaim tarot for good!
Forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical. One of the cards is typically understood to represent the devil, while the entire deck has been ostensibly used to predict the future. The deck Muller uses, meanwhile, is associated with Dr. Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942), a scholar of occultism and member of the “Outer Order of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,” which was devoted to the study and practice of the occult. Waite later established the “Fellowship of the Rosy Cross,” a Christian mystical organization that drew heavily upon freemasonry.
The devil, fortune-telling, the occult, freemasonry, what could possibly go wrong? It leads one to wonder: why would a Catholic want to indulge in activities that have such a checkered, explicitly anti-Catholic history? Perhaps because many of us have become inclined to think Satan isn’t real, or that his power is distant and disinterested.
That’s certainly a different perspective than that of the first pope. “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour,” he warns in 1 Peter 5:8. Yet the pervading influence of the devil in our modern world sounds so antiquated, so unscientific, so uneducated. Would we really suggest that simply playing around with some pieces of paper with pictures on them (including pentagrams) would conjure up demonic powers?
In a word, yes. Fulton Sheen once remarked: “Very few people believe in the devil these days, which suits the devil very well. He is always helping to circulate the news of his own death.” Satan wants us to believe that he’s not actually the one behind every temptation we face, every sin we indulge, every evil we confront. No, no, he’d like us to believe, those all can be explained psychologically, sociologically, perhaps even genetically.
He’s deceived former Catholic musician Audrey Assad, who recently left the Church. She turned to tarot during the pandemic when she was dealing with isolation and anxiety. “I do believe it’s a game,” Assad told the WaPo, “not the devil’s portal into my soul.” That she’s promoting herself as someone involved in “oracle practices” does not engender confidence in that statement.
Even Ms. Muller, who I will say I am very glad has returned to the Catholic Church, has been deceived. And I’m not just talking about tarot. Her own online presence features sites where she declares that her preferred pronouns are “she/her.” Someone who accepts this gender insanity by surrendering to the nonsense of preferred pronouns has already, in a very real sense, been deceived by the devil. Satan knows that by confusing our understanding of human nature, he can destroy the Church, the family, and our very bodies.
Let me speak as frankly as possible. Satan wants you. He wants to destroy every single one of us. He wants to bring misery and brokenness into our lives, and he ultimately wants to steal our soul for eternal punishment. And he will do anything he can to accomplish that aim. If that means persuading you that tarot cards or some other such activity is “harmless,” he’ll do it. To flirt with any portal that Satan has used to bring about his demonic purposes is to play with fire.
I do not know the particulars of Ms. Muller’s life, or her conversion story. Please God she will fully embrace the Catholicism of her upbringing. But I have strong doubts that tarot, even stripped of its soothsaying traits, can be redeemed for Christological purposes. St. Boniface didn’t try to repurpose the pagan Donar’s Oak—he cut it down. St. Martin of Tours didn’t try to synthesize Christianity with pagan temples that had served as sites of blasphemy and gross immorality—he tore them down. Satan and his tools are not to be trifled with.
This is why all Catholics need to ask priests to bless their homes. It is also why we should frequent the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist. We never know what evil forces have been at work around us, invited in knowingly or unknowingly by others or ourselves.
There is no reason to try and repurpose tarot and other pagan practices if we are seeking to enter into the powerful mystical forces at work in the Church. Why bother with tarot when you have at your disposal the writings of St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Teresa of Avila, or St. John of the Cross? Why play with a deck of cards created by a freemason occultist when you can pray the Rosary, contemplate the Stations of the Cross, or pray in front of the exposed Body of Christ? These have true spiritual potency, and they are intended to draw us into the mystical life of God.
As someone who has completed multiple tours to Afghanistan, I can tell you that I have felt the power of Satan. He did not come when the 107mm rockets started landing in my compound, or when AK-47 rounds bounced around me. He came late at night, alone in my bunk, when I was sad, afraid, and desperate for comfort. Those three adjectives well describe a generation of atomized and isolated Americans who feel betrayed and broken by the promises of a secularist, materialist culture. But I can promise you, the salve to your pained souls isn’t found in a deck of cards. It’s found in a consecrated Host that is, really and truly, God made present in our world.
[Image Credit: Unsplash]