A Statistical Analysis of Daily Draws

I’m a left-brained person. I like to analyze, to compute, to unscrew things and look at the complications inside them and understand the mechanisms that make them work. And unfortunately, in Tarot, it’s very difficult to apply that left-brained mentality successfully.

I’ve been reading Tarot for a little over seven years now, and I’m still not sold on the belief that Tarot “works”. A lot of readers believe that there’s some underlying supernatural (or natural-yet-inexplicable) force that causes the “right” cards to show up in a reading, whether because of the “energies” of the reader and querent, the divine will of a deity, the synchronistic interconnectedness of the universe, or some other, similar principle.

The title of the Six of Swords in the Thoth deck is “Science”. It seemed an appropriate figurehead for my project.

I don’t subscribe to this belief. Never have. And the primary reason is that I (a child of Cartesian empiricism, though I’m loath to admit it) can’t accept a belief without testing it and tinkering with it half a dozen different ways, until I’m sure that it’s valid and there isn’t some other, better explanation. In my experience of Tarot, I’ve never found reason to believe–that is to say, I’ve never found what I would consider proof, or even really evidence of the assertion–that the cards a reader turns up are anything other than random. That doesn’t in any way mean that the process of interpreting those cards and assigning meaning to them can’t be valuable, but I’ve never felt that there was one divine truth that somehow expressed itself through Tarot.*

But–once again, child of Descartes that I am–I’ll also accept the possibility that this is the case, if it can be shown to me. If, under reasonably controlled experimental conditions, it can be shown that Tarot cards manifest in a pattern other than complete randomness, I’m perfectly willing to change my views on the matter.

So I’m embarking on a little experiment.

For 100 days, I’m going to keep track of my daily draws in an Excel spreadsheet,** taking into account three variables: number, suit, and reversal (or the lack thereof). One hundred one-card spreads, which should all, theoretically, be the “right” cards for me in each day, and not just random. While this is too small of a sample size to stand up to real scientific scrutiny, it’s enough for my purposes, at least initially. (Ideally, I would continue to keep track of the data beyond the 100-day mark, but if I make it too large of a commitment I’ll inevitably end up abandoning the endeavor altogether. One hundred seems like a reasonable number to keep myself to.)

At the end of the hundred days, I’ll do a chi-square statistical analysis on the distribution of cards in each of my three categories. Is there a predominance of one of the five suits (including the Major Arcana)? Are there more upright cards than reversed? Is there a certain number (Ace through King) that I draw more than others among the Minor Arcana?

Because we’re not being too scientifically stringent about this–I’m conducting a casual backyard experiment–I’ll be testing at the p>0.25 level; that is to say, I’ll be testing to see whether (mathematically speaking) there’s less than a 25% chance that my 100-day distribution of cards could have occurred through chance alone. (The scientific standard is a 5% chance, so you see, I really am trying to give the Tarot-is-not-random camp a fair shot.)

Now, this is just one experiment, and not a terribly rigorous one at that. If I get a non-random distribution, that doesn’t prove that there’s an underlying force behind Tarot (although it would certainly encourage me to keep testing), but it would certainly make me more open to the idea. Similarly, if the distribution ends up being identical to pure randomness, that doesn’t prove that there isn’t something extra, although it would disincline me, personally, to accept that belief.

And, of course, there are flaws to the experiment before we even begin, because some people might argue that the cards I “need” to receive in my daily draws won’t differ from a random distribution, because the individual psyche “needs” to be exposed to the entirety of the Tarot’s symbolism. My logic here is that over the course of 100 days, I’ll experience similar themes from one day to the next; I may have a particularly Cupsy three months, or one full of blocked energy (i.e. reversals), and if there’s something supernatural to the cards, then that would theoretically reflect in my daily draws. But for those who believe that’s not how it works, I acknowledge and respect your views, and it may well be that you’re right: that a statistical experiment of this nature could never work with Tarot, because Tarot expresses the entirety of the human condition from one day to the next. That view just doesn’t quite jibe with my own personal test-everything mentality.

I’m seven days in. One Major, four Wands, and two Swords. Five reversals (yikes!). And two Tens. We’ll see what the next 93 days have in store.


*On this point, you may want to check out a very interesting YouTube video recently published by Áine Órga here. I hope she won’t mind me linking to it.

**You see? I told you I was left-brained.

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