When I’m not having awkward conversations with Christians about homosexuality, I find myself having awkward conversations about another aspect of my life: I’m a Christian who practices and teaches yoga, and reads Tarot cards. For many Christians this exiles me to the far fringe of the fringe – to those “crazy Christians who worship Sophia and call themselves Episcopalians.”
Perhaps I should lay all my cards on the table now: I’m not concerned anymore with towing the Evangelical line. I used to be – I used to protect my image as an orthodox, uncontroversial believer vigilantly, perhaps as compensation for feeling so invalidated by being gay in the church. Now, I dont care; my give a damn is broken. I’m not invested in protecting Evangelicalism’s easily violated sense of safety. In my view, a little unease, a little push on our tightly wound sense of security is a good thing. I’m not here to protect people from discomfort – I happen to believe that discomfort is a good thing. I am, however, invested in truth, discourse, and legitimate criticism. Yoga and Tarot are two of my passions, and I want to offer some preliminary thoughts on being a Christian who uses both yoga and tarot on a daily basis.
First of all, why? Why yoga when I could just go to a gym, and why Tarot at all?
The simple answer is that both are effective, complentary tools in maintaining my mental health. I use them in a much larger regimen to maintain equilibrium: alongside a strict sleep schedule, meds, and other tools. Both have been life savers for me. In short, I use them because they work. I also believe that’s why they’ve been around and in use for so long: they have a unique and positive impact on the human psyche.
On top of being useful for my mental health, they are also helpful in connecting me to God; specifically, the Triune God of Christianity. Both help me find stillness, both help to orient me towards God and to hear his voice.
This leads us, though, to the next question: how?
Both are undeniably spiritual practices. The word “yoga” means “to yoke.” It is not just exorcise – it is an integrative spiritual practice in which we bond with something higher than ourselves. I dont believe in yoga as simply exercise – if it is, you’re not doing yoga. Yoga, by its nature, trains us to connect deeply with ourselves, to rest, to still the constant movement of the mind, and in doing so, helps us connect with something beyond us – something that we can submit to. In other words, yoga creates the foundation for mystical experience.
However, much like the 12 Steps, the Higher Power to which you choose to be yoked is your choice entirely. I choose Christ. I am not worshiping idols, I am not bowing down to Shiva, I am not conversing with spirit guides. That is not my yoga practice. Instead, when I practice yoga, I’m practicing mindfulness: welcoming, accepting, and then letting go of every thought and feeling. I’m centering myself on Jesus, usually with the Orthodox Jesus Prayer: *inhale* “Jesus Christ, son of God,” *exhale*, “have mercy on me, the Sinner.”
When it comes to Tarot, a distinction needs to be made between two schools: the first is divination and fortune telling, and this is the most popular perception of the Tarot. The second school is the use of the archetypes of Tarot for personal meditation and insight, without necessarily believing it is spiritually led. I practice the latter, and not the former.
The archetypal imagery of the Tarot is so powerful, so perrenial, that it ignites insights and responses within you. The process of reading Tarot becomes an archetypal Rorschach test – you superimpose your own story, your own needs, your own unseen quandries onto the cards. They help to unearth the depths of your own psyche. The cards are also particularly helpful for me when I am in the midst of panic or depression – they bring me out of the storm, out of myself and into the archetypal.
In the cases of both yoga and Tarot, they assumed the role of magic in previous times precisely because they work so effectively. As I read Tarot, or rest in a deep yoga practice, I fully understand why these practices attained the occult and mystical status they enjoy.
But none of this really gets at the primary objection many Christians have: can a Christian use these tools decoupled from their occult and Hindu origins? Are not the inherent occult and Hindu nature of these practices contrary to Christianity?
I understand these concerns, but I don’t share them. I don’t believe that anything, in and of itself, is purely good or purely evil, like Sauron’s One Ring or Voldemort’s Horcruxes. I also think these concerns build on a misguided myth of Christian purity: that there is a “pure Christian culture,” and everything else, but this division defies reality and history. We are Gentiles, and all aspects of our church and society are a complex intermingling of pagan and Christian, secular and sacred, with all different religions and myths and philosophies, and I can’t help but feel that that’s part of the point. Christ came to redeem the world, and that means yoga and tarot as well as people. God did not just come to save people, but cultures, because people and culture are intimately connected.
This leaves us with the complicated work of deciding what stays in the Kingdom of God, and what goes. I happen to believe that Tarot and yoga, inherently mystical, occultic and Hindu though they are, should stay. Others disagree with me, and that is ok.
At the end of the day, I tell everyone uncomfortable with the concept the same thing: don’t compromise your boundaries. If yoga or tarot freak you out, or you have a conviction not to practice them, than don’t practice them.
However, I do find both to be powerful tools, and I would find the the loss of both tragic. In much the same way the wise men looked into their astrological magic and saw the Star of Christ, so I too look into yoga and Tarot and see God.
15 thoughts on “I’m a Christian, and I Practice Yoga and Read Tarot”
Thanks for sharing this, Brad. I feel the same way about yoga. I really don’t practice it as I’d like to – these days it is mostly just for exercise and getting my body in tune w/ my mind, but I used to be a bit more meditative about it. Like you, my meditative focus has always been Peace and Love as understood within an explicitly Christian context. I had not actually heard of the second school of thought you mentioned re: Tarot. When people mention Tarot to me, I don’t so much get concerned about demon-seeking (as many Evangelicals do, and as I once did as a toe-the-line-conservative-of-yesteryear), I just roll my eyes and wonder “Why the f*??” It just seemed silly to me. But I love the observation about its connection to the Rorschach (which speaks to me as a psychologist). So I totally appreciate that. If I ever get the opportunity to meet you one day, I would love to observe (participate with?) you as you practice it. That vision of it seems quite fascinating…and promising.
That would be lovely! If ever we do meet, we will definitely have to do a reading. While I’m not in psychology, I too think there is a lot of potential for it in a therepeutic sense. There’s actually been some work done on that front: I recently ordered a book called Tarot and Psychology by Arthur Rosengarten, which explores Tarot in a non-spiritual, therepeutic setting. I have no idea if it is a bullshit book or not, as I have not started reading it yet, but thought it definitely worth the investigation. My partner, who is getting his masters in Social Work and wants to pursue therepeutic work, is also interested in integrating the Tarot into his practice.
Very interesting! I’ll admit, when I read things about you practicing tarot before, I was a little turned off by it, but now that I understand how you utilize it, I think it’s pretty cool. Thanks for showing me a different perspective.
I’m so glad you found this perspective on the Tarot helpful. Unfortunately, the Tarot definitely has a Stigma to it. It is one of my agendas in life to help de-stigmatize these powerful tools.
Enlightening post! I’ve learned more about yoga in recent years, even practicing it at my current job where it’s part of our students’ regular schedule. I like it. I probably need to do it more than the once a week I’m also on the kids’ yoga schedule. But anyway. I had no concept of “another” route with Tarot. Thanks for sharing your experience with that as well. Onward to a healthier existence.
Yoga is incredibly powerful – I’m glad you’ve been practicing it. You are also always welcome to my class every Monday evening. I can’t overstate how important yoga has been for me.
I’m a Christian Reiki Master and crystal junkie . . . Welcome to the club 😉
Interesting, Granted, some of us don’t see a huge difference between “divination” and “meditation and insight” and consider the distinction between the two to be almost arbitrary and artificial. And of course, a lot of Christians forget that the Bible actually includes its own mentions of divination (see: the urim and thumin) in a positive light. Then there’s the extremely common modern practice of picking a Bible verse at random each morning and meditating on it to find how it applies to your life that day.
Thanks for your thoughts. In what ways do you see divination and meditation as similar?
To me, divination means “to seek divine insight.” So to me, the meditative process you describe results in what I consider divine insights from where the Divine has been talking to one’s unconscious mind.
Wonderful insight – thank you. Hadn’t thought of it that way, but it is a helpful contribution to this post
I used Tarot for 25 years, yet I am a devout Christian. It can be a useful tool, I found it so, yet it can also lead one to become dependent on the cards…..though I doubt you are in any way doing that. Also, there is the potential danger of an underdeveloped fragment of one’s personality kind of taking over. We are complex creatures, wonderfully made. It has been a few years now since I have used the Tarot, I now write and it does the same thing for me. However, I believe that using the images of the Tarot have helped me to write since it allowed me to be better able to understand how my intuition works.
I have met people who actually think the Tarot has some sort of power of its own, I do believe to believe that is to ask for trouble.
You make some really excellent points. I had a friend once who projected a lot of his neuroses onto the cards, and it was a devastating experience. While they are a helpful tool, they can also be incredibly damaging if used incorrectly. Thanks so much for dropping by and sharing your experience.