August 01, 2017

Tarot Blog Hop: It's just an old hat, son.

Did the hat make John Wayne? Or did John Wayne make the hat?

Welcome to the latest edition of the Tarot Blog Hop. This time around, our host the irreverent and irredeemable Morgan Eckstein asks, "How do you show respect to the Tarot?" As usual, me being who I am, I'll answer that question after I tell you an unrelated story.

This story begins with a country song:

Years ago I heard a cowboy singing a song. It's been so long now that I can't remember when or where I heard it, and not even all-powerful Google can find the lyrics, but the song's refrain was, "It's just an old hat, son." Stanza after stanza, the cowboy told stories about watching his father fix trucks, shoot guns, lasso cattle, ride horses, and sit up late watching the moon, and in each instance the father's wearing his hat.

The magic hat!

And in the eyes of the child, the father's hat became a sacred relic. It was imbued with the father's strength and wisdom, and the father was who he was because he wore the hat. But life is like that, you know? We have a way of mistaking the cosmetic for the fundamental, and vice versa. As the song goes on, the boy becomes a man and the father grows old. When the man realizes that life is complicated, he asks his father for help and remarks, "I'd sure know how to live life right if I had your hat," to which the father replies, "It's just an old hat, son."

Don't mistake the tool for the hand that wields it. 

So like a lot of songs you've probably heard, the one in question was a sentimental way of telling the listener to not make gods of mortals, or to imbue holy power into mundane objects. You know how this is: you think your parents know all the answers when you're a kid, but when you grow up you have to knock them off their pedestals and learn to love and accept them for the flawed people they really are. Spring illusions wax strong in the summer but yield disappointment in the fall and grief in the winter.

I'm not your illumined master.

So just like the boy idolized his father and credited his hat with special abilities, I have clients who idolize me and credit my Tarot deck with special abilities. The way clients revere and praise a Tarot reader is severely addicting, and if you're not careful it can be a deadly trap. The best way to avoid this trap is to never yourself be deceived that you're anything other than what you are - a fallible human - and that your Tarot deck is just ink on paper.

The Tarot is not a holy relic.

Seriously: it's just ink and paper dressed up with myth and fantasy passed down through the generations. This doesn't mean it's useless - after all, even an old hat can keep the sun out of your eyes - but it doesn't require any special treatment. If you find it emotionally satisfying to perform magic passes over your cards, smoke your deck with incense, or pray to an imaginary friend that he, she, or it takes up residence in your 78 pieces of cardstock, then by all means - go ahead. 

But it's still just an old hat.

And what's wrong with that? There are lots of ways to care for and preserve old hats: you can have the bow and ribbon replaced when they get loose and fray. You can have the crown and pinch steamed and reformed when they fall flat. You can replace the silk liner and the sweatband when they've lost their shine. And a floppy brim can always be strengthened with the careful application of starch.

Likewise, you can care for your deck by keeping it in a sturdy box or bundled in a favorite silk scarf. If the cards get marked up from use, you can wipe them clean with a cotton swab and some rubbing alcohol. If a card gets ripped, you can order a replacement from the manufacturer or replace it with the same card from another deck. Naturally, you can extend the life of your cards by keeping them out of reach from grubby hands, and I can only assume you'd never lay them down on a dirty table that still remembers what you ate for lunch. You can even prevent ripped and dirty cards from ever happening by purchasing a set of plastic card sleeves.

Or you can embrace the life philosophy that nothing is permanent. "This too shall pass" is perhaps the only statement that is true of anything at any given time, and unless you intend to keep your Tarot deck under glass as a museum showpiece where it'll never see warm sunlight or feel the touch of human flesh, it'll eventually return to the earth from which it came. 

And what's wrong with that?

I'm not convinced that imaginary friends exist or that my favorite deck of Tarot cards has personal feelings, but who knows? Maybe imaginary friends do exist, and maybe my Tarot deck does have personal feelings, but I'm just too ignorant to realize these truths? Yet despite my disbelief in the need for special rituals to gain the favor of imaginary friends or respect the alleged sanctity of cardstock, my Tarot deck is still useful and powerful - but only because I am skilled and knowledgeable.

You wear the hat, the hat doesn't wear you.

Just like old hats, Tarot decks have a way of redirecting other people's attention and leading them to mythologize or idealize the person who uses them. If you're not attentive, they'll do the same to you. It's not possible for you as a Tarot reader to prevent other people from doing this to you, but you can at least be honest with yourself that you're the one who uses the Tarot deck - it doesn't use you. 

And when figurative children make your deck into something it isn't - and by extension, you into somebody you're not - you can at least let them know it's just an old hat. Children who aren't ready to accept this truth won't believe you and will persist in their chosen fantasies, but children who are ready to grow up will understand this truth, gain a greater appreciation for what you do, and ultimately thank you for your wisdom.


  1. I have several coffee strained decks which still work just fine.

    1. I don't have any coffee stained decks largely because I don't drink coffee, but I do have a few decks that got jammed. Like, strawberry jammed because I was eating toast while reading my cards. In hindsight, it wasn't a great idea to do both at the same time LoL

  2. Couldn't agree more! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Glad to know that there're some like minds out there. See you around!

  3. Marvellous analogy. Yes, it's just an old hat, but a new hat wouldn't be the same as your well-loved old one. I'm quite attached to several old hats as well as my old cards :)

    1. Yep: new decks, new hats - either way, they've gotta get broken in before they really feel like they're mine.

  4. Love it! You had me at - I'll answer that question after I tell you an unrelated story. :D

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed my story-telling. I make frequent use of similes, metaphors, and parables in my writing if only because it's usually more engaging and entertaining than what would otherwise come out reading like a stereo manual. My wife keeps telling me to get back into writing fiction, but me being my stubborn self I've resisted her advice. She's probably right, though - she usually is.


Freedom of Expression =/= Freedom from Consequences