Where do tarot cards get their fortune-telling power? | Chicagoans | Chicago Reader

Where do tarot cards get their fortune-telling power? 

“I'm not psychic,” Alan Salmi says, “but the cards are.”

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click to enlarge "When you have a random input, the random input can get you thinking in new ways," Salmi says of the potential of tarot.

"When you have a random input, the random input can get you thinking in new ways," Salmi says of the potential of tarot.

Danielle A. Scruggs

Chicagoans is a first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford. This week's Chicagoan is Alan Salmi, tarot-card reader.

The tarot originated as a card game in Renaissance Italy. It was a game with images that were part of the general moral instructions of the time. Like, Temperance and Judgment were the names of some of the cards. The regular playing-card deck that you know—aces, clubs, and whatnot—evolved from tarot cards.

"Tarot decks became mass-produced once the printing press came along, and then the tarot became grafted onto things like the Jewish kabbalah. You can study the tarot as a spiritual path, in which you spend time meditating on the figures on the cards and imagining yourself speaking to them, or you can use the cards as a way of doing divination, which is the fancy term for fortune telling.

"Where do the cards get their power? The most extreme explanation would be that there is an angel who presides over the spirits of the cards and helps you place them in the right places. There is a more scientific explanation, though.

"There's a guy named Edward de Bono who developed something called lateral thinking. He says when you're stuck in a problem, you're usually stuck because your thinking is channeled in a certain way. And when you have a random input, the random input can get you thinking in new ways. For example, you've had the experience of somebody asking just the right question, and it flips something in your brain, and it organizes in a new way. I think the tarot can also be thought of as that kind of process.

"Last year, I almost died. I woke up thinking I had the flu, and by that night I was in the ER. I had a massive infection in my heart, and that caused some strokes. I'm on disability as my major income. I wanted to feel useful still, and there's a new restaurant just a half block from where I live, Five and Dime. So the third Tuesday of every month, I read cards there. I'm trained in three different types of psychotherapy too.

"A lot of times people ask about money and romance. Often it's women who sit down and go, 'Is this the right guy for me?' I have two answers for that. One is, 'Is this somebody you would go into business with?' They go, 'Why are you asking me that?' I say, 'Because if you're going to spend your life with somebody, you've got to rely on them. How you are going to organize the finances? Who's going to pick up the kids?'

"The other thing was, I developed something called the seven S's, like, is the person sane, sober, sexy, and solvent? Sometimes it would lead to a useful discussion, but sometimes the person would say, 'Oh no, I'd never go into business with him.' Then I'd say, 'Well, then we just have to find out how long a romance this is.' Sometimes the deck will say things directly: 'Boom, here's your answer. In the next four to six weeks, you'll have something shift here.' I tell people, 'I'm not psychic, but the cards are.' "   v

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