Mark Green's Atheopaganism Blog

Living an Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science

Intuitive Understanding and “Divination”

I read Tarot cards. Not as much as I used to, but I still do it.

I don’t think of it as “fortune telling”. I think of the Tarot as a magnificently complex set of symbols from which I randomly choose, creating therefrom a narrative which draws up my intuitive understanding of a situation or question and illuminates it in complex, interesting and often surprising ways. In a way, Tarot is like a Rorschach test, only with much richer set of available symbols and a long history of interpretation and lore.

Besides, it’s really, really cool. Tarot by candlelight, with a bit of incense? You won’t feel much witchier than that, short of dancing naked around a fire.

In the Atheist community, I see a lot of hyperfocus on rationality, and discounting of intuitive thinking (and of emotion, generally). What cannot be logically explained is often dismissed entirely, to a fault. I find this to be excessive, because we have abundant empirical evidence that there is such a thing as intuition, and it often provides us with information that our cognitive minds don’t. It is a part of being human. And being fully human—fulfilled, self-aware, connected in community and relationships, feeling a place in the Cosmos and celebration in living—is what Atheopaganism is about.

The Deep Mind often grasps what the Thinking Mind does not, connecting dots to see larger patterns. The Thinking Mind goes through a laborious logical and often reductionist  process to try to figure things out. The Deep Mind, by contrast, can move through these steps in leaps, arriving at knowledge about a topic in a flash of revelation.

This is sometimes, it should be said, how scientific discoveries are made: with the “Eureka!” moment when the implications of the data become clear. The intuitive process is a real analytical process which happens below the level of consciousness. It is harder to trust than cognitive thinking because you can’t see how the conclusions were arrived at, and there is always—as with cognitive thinking—the chance that personal biases or lack of important information lead to a false conclusion. When you can’t “check your work” by retracing logical steps, it is harder to trust a conclusion. Nonetheless, intuition is often a spot-on way of understanding a situation or question. And the more thoroughly you can examine an intuitive understanding—as, when considering it through the construction of a narrative using the symbols of the Tarot, or the runes, or any other such system—the more clearly you can see where it comes from, what it means, and how it may be applied to your life.

And in my experience, this almost—almost—creeps up toward actual fortune-telling.

It does this by helping me to identify the vector of my current actions: the direction in which I—or the person for whom I am reading—am/is likely to be headed if I keep doing what I have been doing in relation to the subject at hand.

This can be profoundly helpful. I’m afraid I don’t think along those lines very much in ordinary mindspace. Rather, I just set my goals and tasks and keep taking methodical steps. Reading Tarot can help me to see that I may not be headed in the direction I thought I was going, or that there may be unforeseen consequences of continued action in the same vein.

Reading Tarot combines many of the elements that make Atheopaganism a rich practice for me: it is ritual, it is cool and fun, it is meaningful, and it can genuinely contribute to better understanding of myself and my life. There are hundreds if not thousands of different decks to choose from, though I tend to stick with the old standby, the medieval-looking Rider-Waite Tarot. If it isn’t a part of your Atheopagan practice, I encourage you to check it out and see if it works for you. It takes awhile to internalize the meanings of the cards and move beyond “book definitions” to archetypal understandings of them, and it’s well worth the effort, in my experience.

If you’re interested, there is a Facebook group for atheist Tarot readers, called Skeptarot. Check it out!

In this May Day season, I wish you the joys of The Lovers and the Ten of Cups. Enjoy!


  1. A ‘perfect’ understanding of how intuition is embedded in our humanness. At best, we trust our intuition and use it in conjunction with our more rational cognitive apparatus — but, the two work so much better in tandom that it’s a shame to disavow the former. Plus, there’s a long, rich, and profound history in our species of the wisdom of storytelling as both guidance and communion and the Tarot does that in spades.

  2. This is fantastic, very much along the lines of my own thinking. The human mind has *evolved* to see/find patterns, and tarot gives us a mechanism to make patterns out of randomness (which cards we draw by chance) and to use this to help us think through things that are going on in our lives.

  3. Really great article. This is how I feel about many things in the craft and practice of divination. Scientifically speaking I don’t believe astrology, tarot, or runes are capable of predicting or determining our behavior, but they are a great way to use your own intuition to reevaluate a situation. Sometimes seeing a question or situation in a new light helps our brain refocus and see things we may have missed before. That is pretty amazing in my opinion. Thank you for sharing this. I get tired of being dismissed by the atheist pagan community because I practice certain things “they” don’t take any stock in.

    1. As it turns out, there are quite a lot of Tarot readers in the Atheopagan Facebook group. I think it’s the “woo” kind of Tarot practitioners that some pagan atheists are reacting to (but they should be discerning about the difference between that and the psychological understanding I describe here).

  4. I thank you for replying so quickly to your email and have to tell you that Lupa Greenwolf also participates crafts that are associated with Witchcraft like Tarot cards and scrying. I have to say that I was really disappointed to find that out after reading her comments to you that I took as being my interpretation of what Atheo- Naturalist paganism which is just completed earth and environmental awareness on our part as a Atheo-Naturalist Pagan. I don’t understand how the “Witchie” practices come into play still and I am unable to get through Lupa’s email site to question her view point. I know I am coming across as being confused but if you would reply to me again and maybe direct me to some pagan blogs or podcasts or links to people who feel as I do I’d appreciate. I started out delving into Witchcraft-candle burning spells and sigils-I was what you would call a “newbie” witch but since reading and listening to different people on Youtube about Atheo/Non Theism views I realized I was definitely following the wrong path. Again, if you would respond to my rant I would be pleased to hear from you.

    1. Hi,

      I’m afraid I don’t understand the “disappointment “. Using Tarot cards as symbols for contemplation is in no way non-naturalistic. What are you looking for?

      1. Hi! again! I gave myself time to think about your response and realize that I shouldn’t be judgmental of your beliefs and practices. I feel for myself that the only rituals I will perform as a solitary is the Wheel of the Year. I believe that we should take time to meditate each day and practice mindfulness. I find daily affirmation cards such as Wisdom for Healing and Self Care as well as Pinterest and Google sites is fine for me for contemplation. I am never going to feel that Naturalist Aetheopaganists should be practicing divination or Goddess archetypes as I strongly feel that magic(k) should be in the wonder an reverence of nature and all that we can do for it. This is my last rant and I can’t begin to tell you how much it has meant to me that you have responded. Thank you-Sandy

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