Divination Practices – Tarot – Psychotherapy

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2002
Tarot cards, in addition to their widely recognized use of divination tools, are being used in psychotherapy! The authors explain. Tarot progeny, the Cartouch and Phoenix Cards are also discussed briefly.

When occultist Alfred Douglas describes some of the cards’ esoteric principles in The Tarot: The Origins, Meaning and Uses of the Cards, we see how they may be used in psychology, and also the risks of tarot meditation. The potential for the tarot deck to incor­porate spiritistic contacts can also be seen via the tarot characters “coming alive,” for example, through the personification of the “inner self” as a guardian angel or in the ritual of “dismissing” occult powers,):[1]

The Tarot cards display a powerful array of psychic images, and it can be surmised that they were used not only as teaching aids but as focal points of consciousness during individual meditation…. The twenty-two cards of the Tarot major arcana have been used extensively by Western occultists during the past century as an important part of their Qabalistic “Tree of Life” meditation system…. The aim of Tarot meditation is to project oneself in the imagination into each card in turn, exploring its imagery, getting the “feel” of its symbolism, uncovering its meaning in terms of one’s own psychic structure…. Step in your imagination over the threshold of the card as if through an open door, and stand with the characters in their own world…. But gradually you will find that new ideas regarding the significance of the images appear in your mind. These may take the form of abstract thoughts which suggest fresh lines of enquiry… or the characters might move and perform various actions or even speak, in which case you should listen and try to catch what is being said. Visualise the characters as strongly as you can…. It is important when you have finished your meditation that you “close down” properly. The powers which can be invoked during the visualisation process must be dismissed thoroughly before you return to everyday consciousness…. By building up a detailed account of your progress and discoveries over a period of weeks, months or even years you will gain a true and valuable insight into the inner significance of the mystical quest and its relevance to the realities of your personal psyche. Such a program of meditation not only has a harmonising and therapeutic effect, but can lead in time to what some mystics have called the Knowledge and Companionship of the Holy Guardian Angel, which is the living presence of the inner self. [2]

Some writers view the tarot as a form of “esoteric psychology,” and so it is not surprising that many psychologists have turned to the cards as a method to trigger client self-insight. Angeles Arrien, assistant professor of anthropology at the New Age-oriented California Institute of Integral Studies, asserts, “Basically the tarot is an esoteric psychology, a sci­ence that symbolically represents through visual symbols a record of known possibilities of experience…. Currently, there is a resurgence of interest to use the tarot as a therapeutic and transformative tool. An effective therapeutic model utilizing the tarot could be devised by looking at esoteric-exoteric systems that have been developed by Eastern cultures.” [3]

The use of the tarot in psychotherapy is also illustrated by Dr. Genie Z. Laborde, an authority on “Neuro Linguistic Programming” (NLP). Laborde is in charge of John Grinder’s “Executive Excellence” program, and she is an educator who received her Ph.D. in the controversial “confluent education” program from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She points out how easily “psychological processes can be taught and illustrated using the images of the tarot deck. The tarot is used to elicit and dramatize the psychologi­cal process of projection, as evidence of a long tradition of archetypes and symbols which can evoke affect, and as visual examples of potential images available from the ‘undiscov­ered self,’ Carl Jung’s phrase denoting the unconscious of the human psyche.” [4]

Dr. Laborde has taught this tarot “therapy” to numerous groups of individuals, including corporation presidents, school and university teachers, psychologists, stockbrokers, edi­tors, and housewives, all of whom say they have personally benefited from the sessions. She states, “The more l worked with the Tarot the more convinced I became of its rich potential for evoking responses in my own unconscious and in the unconscious of my students.” [5]

In conclusion, when people freely dabble in tarot magic and divination, or in other forms of the occult, they are asking for the problems characteristically associated with these methods. [6] Introducing unsuspecting clients to the occult in the form of tarot psychotherapy only complicates matters. Unfortunately, fringe psychotherapy today is utilizing the methods of dozens of occult traditions, many with their own brands of esoteric occult psychology. [7]

Regardless, the cards are obviously not something to be played with at parties or utilized in divination or for so-called “self-actualization.” “Because the cards are so potent symboli­cally, they are also most dangerous when misused or perverted. Attempts to use them to predict the future are definitely to be discouraged. Tarot symbolism strikes to the recesses of the unconscious, where the archetypes reside. To try to harness this energy for prognos­tication and the control of one’s destiny is simply to ask for trouble.” [8]

Tarot Progeny: Cartouche and Phoenix Cards

The popularity of tarot cards has produced a number of related systems, among them Cartouche and the Phoenix cards. In The Way of Cartouche: An Oracle of Ancient Egyp­tian Magic author Murray Hope describes their history and function. The cards are similar to the tarot in arrangement spread, and they are used for a broad variety of occult activity. The cover jacket describes the cards as a “system of self understanding and awareness that taps into the wisdom of the ancient Egyptians.” Thus it is supposedly “an exciting new system of divination because it encapsulates the archetypal and powerful energies known and understood by the ancients and embodies them in identities recognizable in today’s world.” The Cartouche cards are said to “provide startlingly accurate answers to dreams, family or emotional problems, financial or business matters, protection, spiritual seeking, or any of life’s enigmas.” And the user is told to “try the Cartouche—you will be astounded by their accuracy.”

The Phoenix cards stress divination and self-insight, but they also concentrate on per­sonal growth through understanding one’s alleged “past lives.” The following promotional description of a standard text, The Phoenix Cards (Destiny, 1990), by astrologer and psy­chic Susan Sheppard, reveals the occult focus of this particular method. (Sheppard is a descendant of the Swedenborgian mystic John Chapman, better known as “Johnny Appleseed.”)

This book and deck of 28 Phoenix cards provide the first divination tool especially created for delving into past lives to better understand our experiences in the here and now. Each of the 28 images is a symbolic, visual representation of a particular world culture that will help you recall and bring into sharp focus the times and places of your previous incarnations.

The author explains how our present personalities are psychically programmed to remember who we were in previous existences, where we have been, and what cultures we have played a part in the shaping. The symbols of the Phoenix Deck are at once specific and universal, triggering these unconscious memories to help you discover your latent talents, identify the lessons you most need to learn, and come to terms with unexplained fears, attractions, and other perplexing emotions and impulses.

Several configurations are given for laying out the cards to determine which past lifetimes are the primary keys to your present personality and life experience. This knowledge eliminates confusion about present circumstances, enables you to see yourself more clearly—your habits, values and goals—and facilitates your ability to develop in the directions you choose. With practice, you can also learn to read the Phoenix cards easily and effectively for others. [9]

In conclusion, the various forms of divination we have examined—runes, I Ching, tarot, Cartouche, and Phoenix—are utilized today by millions of people throughout the world. Those who seek out such methods do so for a variety of reasons, rarely suspecting the demonic nature underlying the power of these systems.


  1. See discussion of New Age Inner Work in Ankerberg and Weldon, Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1996)
  2. Alfred Douglas, The Tarot: The Origins, Meaning and Uses of the Cards (Baltimore, MD: Penguin, 1972), pp. 204-08.
  3. Angeles Arrien, “Tarot: An Esoteric Psychology, New Realities, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 56, 58.
  4. Genie Z. Laborde, “Tarot as a Hook for Fishing,” New Realities, vol. 5, no. 2, p. 50.
  5. Ibid., pp. 53-54.
  6. See John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Coming Darkness: Confronting Occult Deception (Eu­gene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993).
  7. For example, Raymond J. Corsini (ed.), Handbook of Innovative Therapies (New York: John Wiley, 1981). This book discusses some 250 therapies.
  8. John Warwick Montgomery, Principalities and Powers (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1972), pp. 131- 32.
  9. Inner Traditions International, Fall 1990 catalog (Rochester, VT), p. 2.

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