Tarot is a tool used by many people. There is no one single commonality amongst all the people who use the cards, except of course the cards themselves. One of the things that shapes how a person would use the cards is their beliefs. Tarot’s structure makes it well suited as a map for many belief systems, including my own current explorations using shamanic practices and applying shamanic beliefs. As is the case with so many different belief systems and practices, there are several obvious parallels between shamanism and tarot. These parallels are not unique to shamanism and tarot. You can, and many have, drawn parallels between tarot and other systems for understanding the world.
1. Structure (or, in a sense, cosmology)
Tarot has a structure: Major Arcana, Minor Arcana, four suits, numbered cards, and court cards. Shamanism also has a basic cosmology (or shared structure of the world) that includes the Upper World, Middle World, and Lower World. It also distinguishes between Ordinary Reality and Non-Ordinary Reality. I would not go so far as to say that these distinctions relate directly. The similarity is that they bring a specific structure to the human experience and structure is what helps us understand, describe, and talk about our experiences.
2. A Way to Find (Divine) Answers
One of the most popular uses of tarot cards is in readings. Readings are ways that people seek answers, inspiration, and guidance. Journeys are a shamanistic technique that allows the journeyer to find answers, inspiration, and guidance. Another subcategory parallel is that you can do a tarot reading for yourself as well as for someone else, and you can also journey for yourself or on behalf of someone else.
Both tarot and shamanistic journeys depend on the intent of the diviner and the clarity of question as well as the practitioner’s skill with symbol recognition and interpretation. One difference between the two is that some tarot readers can answer multiple questions using only one spread of the cards while most people journey on only one question at a time.
4. Influence of the Practitioner
Some readers agree that there are basic meanings to each card (although not all readers agree on this), but even within the range of basic meanings, a reader brings his or her own personal interpretations to the reading. Similarly, there can be shared symbolism amongst journeyers (for example, the Foundation for Shamanic Studies has a program devoted to the Mapping of Non-Ordinary Reality, most people who journey interpret their experiences, whether for themselves or for another, based on their personal relationships with the entities that they encounter and the experiences that they have.
Most readers translate the cards into “plain English” so that the interpretation makes sense to the person receiving the reading. Shamanistic practitioners, when they journey for someone else, often give the interpreted message without explaining what they experienced during their journey. This has been my experience in classes and group work as well as when I’ve been on the receiving end of shamanic services.
Both readers and shamanic practitioners, in general, seek to do good, to provide healing and encouragement and comfort where they can. The intention is to help and most work hard to provide the information discovered, whether in a reading or during a journey, with love and respect.