“A prisoner devoid of books, had he only a Tarot of which he knew how to make use, could, in a few years, acquire a universal science, and converse with an unequaled doctrine and inexhaustible eloquence.” –Eliphas Lévi

I just was sent a ruling by a United States District Court regarding the possession of a tarot deck in a prison. The court found that:

“S***, a Wiccan, uses tarot cards for religious purposes. DC (Department of Corrections) policy requires inmates to check out tarot cards from a chaplain and prohibits keeping cards in cells. S*** asserts that this policy violates his rights under RLUIPA by inhibiting spontaneous readings. A DC expert witness testified that the policy was necessary to prevent

  1. gambling, as tarot cards can be manipulated for use as playing cards;
  2. trafficking, since card readings could be conducted in exchange for goods or services;
  3. psychological control, as some prisoners may believe tarot card-holders have special powers; and
  4. gang symbols on tarot cards, which could be used to promote or defame gangs, leading to violence.

“Ruling for the DC officials, the district court noted that S*** checked out the tarot cards numerous times, that prison chaplains never rejected his check-out requests, and that DC policy permits S*** to keep other Wiccan religious items in his cell. The court found that, even if the check-out system burdens S***’s religious beliefs, it is the least restrictive policy that promotes prison safety while accommodating S***’s religious beliefs.”

This shows Wicca being afforded the rights of other religions in prisons—yeah! It’s only been in the last few years that soldiers could be buried in military graveyards with a pentagram on their gravestone—a battle that took many years and the jumping of more hoops than any other religious organization in order to accomplish.

It’s interesting that this ruling identifies tarot as a Wiccan religious item while acknowledging that it can be used in other ways. Whether or not the prison authorities are right, I would like to suggest to that prisoner and others that one of the powers of tarot is its application in the Art of Memory, so that being able to create the cards, in all their detail, in the mind’s eye is a very powerful way of working with them.

I’d like to get your thoughts in this poll and in the comments.