Josie's Mail Bag: How Important is Ritual?
Do I need to shuffle and cut with my left hand? Does it matter what kind of cloth I use? Do I have to use crystals? Someone else opened my cards… These are just some of the many questions that you write to me about and regularly land in my inbox. Since it’s coming up for Halloween it seemed a good opportunity to talk about the importance of personal rituals.
With Tarot there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. As I mentioned in the previous article, You are the Magic, Tarot is very much a personal journey developed over time and experience. For the beginner though the sheer amount of information, and sometimes-conflicting opinions, can all feel a bit overwhelming. So we need to start somewhere but then adapt as we go along, with what feels comfortable and works for each of us personally.
As an example, I know of some readers that keep their Tarot deck in the old original cardboard box, stored in the kitchen draw. They remove the cards, shuffle a few times, lay the cards down on the table and start reading. It would outwardly seem they have no set ritual at all, and yet still produce a good and accurate reading. At the other end of the scale, I once heard from a reader who used to go through a very long and elaborate ritual, including a full meditation session, before drawing one card for the day. They were most put out by my own approach and quite emphatic about how seriously they take their Tarot practice. As we can see, two completely different viewpoints!
For anyone who is familiar or tried meditation, visualisation, or spell work, you’ll understand that one of the difficult things to do is to focus the mind. The moment we try to quiet the conscious mind the internal chatter begins. If you doubt me, close your eyes and try to concentrate on a simple image in your mind for five to ten minutes. Every now and then an unrelated thought interrupts, or you develop an itch on your nose that won’t be resisted, etc. It’s as if the minute we try to empty our thoughts everything imaginable jumps in to be heard and take over.
Most of us have read stories about famous sporting personalities, actors, or musicians, that always insist upon wearing a particular item of clothing or jewellery, or a set ritual they go through before they step onto the public stage to perform; their lucky socks or shorts, bouncing the ball a certain number of times before serving, the New Zealand rugby team perform the legendary Maori dance, etc. The power of the ritual to the performer helps them achieve a certain mental state, to get into their zone for peak performance. Many of the rituals, or repetitive behaviour, appear to make no sense to the outsider but are of great importance within the belief patterns of the individual.
Whilst we may not be setting off for Wimbledon, or performing on stage and screen to millions of viewers, most people use some form of ritual before special occasions, preparing for an exam, interview, or presentation. Group rituals are familiar in our various cultures or traditions in the way we celebrate a birth, wedding, family occasion, or funeral, providing a sense of community, empathy, sharing of emotional expression in joy or suffering. Even on an every day level we engage in some form of ritual that’s embedded within our social structures and way of life, often on an unconscious level but connected to our culture.
Psychologists and therapists believe ritual is symbolic in our sense of personal identity, it can reduce anxiety, help to process difficult emotions, and provide a sense of control. Sport psychologists and coaches recognise the power in helping athletes attain the highest level of concentration required for peak performance. Just watch a top athlete prior to their event as they tune into their zone.
When we sit to do a Tarot reading we’re connecting with our subconscious mind and the right side of the brain, this requires focus to quieten the left side that's connected to the conscious mind. The subconscious is the place of our intuition, where symbolism and archetypes form meaning. Ritual, or a certain repetitive pattern of behaviour, acts as an effective tool to help us to focus and gain access.
The basis of the ritual itself will be symbolic to the individual based upon their personal and individual beliefs. Initially, the ritual may come from someone else, but gradually it becomes adapted to something that aligns for him or her personally. Over time it becomes familiar and automatic, the repetitive actions build the bridge across from the left to the right side of the brain to activate the subconscious, to find that focus, to get into our zone, the signal that we’re making that connection.
So this brings us back to the starting point. If you shuffle and cut with your left or right hand, how you shuffle, whether or not you cut, if you use a spread cloth or not, the type of box you store your cards, how you ‘cleanse’ or separate your cards… everything, is all part of your own ritual and preparation based on your own beliefs. The most important factor is how you feel about it, and how you feel it affects your readings.
If something causes a ripple and bothers you then it’s distracting and interrupts the smooth flow of your preparation, so explore until you find what you feel happy with. Outside of this, there is no “should” to anything. As our two different readers show, it can vary from a simple act to the elaborate, just so long as it’s appropriate to the situation, and the person we’re reading for, of course.
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For Josephine Ellershaw the Tarot has been a constant life companion on a personal journey that spans almost four decades. Alongside her business background she has many years experience providing readings, healing, and metaphysical guidance to an international clientele. She's the author of the international bestseller Easy Tarot: Learn to Read the Cards Once and For All, and Easy Tarot Reading: The Process Revealed in Ten True Readings, published by Llewellyn. She lives in North Yorkshire, England, with her family and large menagerie of pets... READ MORE