Some Personal Thoughts On The Tarot
Article ID: 9970
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: July 31st. 2005
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It was thirty years ago today (give or take a month) that I purchased my first deck of tarot cards (the 1JJ Swiss deck from a local department store). I learned about the cards, both from reading the little booklet tucked inside the box and by studying the cards; taking in everything from the colors used to the expressions on character card's faces.
The twenty-two Major Arcana cards seemed to suggest a story, although one more with characters and setting but only a vague plot-line. An alternate universe I could visit whenever I laid out a few cards.
Adding the Waite-Rider deck to my collection greatly improved my understanding of the Tarot, seeing graphic representations of all seventy-eight cards. The story the Swiss deck suggested was expanded into a panoramic vista filled with laborers, craftsmen, and other folk living their lives.
I have no doubt the cards work. My reasons for this however are probably quite different than those of most people who've studied divination. For me, the magic is not in the cards themselves, nor truly in the reading, but rather in the psychological processes triggered by the experience.
Draw a card and examine it for a few seconds (for sake of familiarity, I'll base my examples on Waite-Rider). Let's say it's The Fool. What about the card stands out to you? Is it the Fool's risk of falling? The costume? The dog? Maybe once you were in danger of going over the edge (literally or figuratively), or so focused on an illusion that you failed to see the real situation.
The card will suggest things to you if you open up to it. Some of these impressions will come to you as vague fragments; a hazy glimpse without any notion of time or place. Others will come in a crystal clear torrent of memories.
These impressions will merge with what you understand about the card from what you've read, as well as past experience. The position in the layout will also cause subtle changes. The differences are important. It is the sum of all these impressions that determines your interpretation of that specific card for this specific reading.
Let's say you're drawing a single card to help make a decision. You may find your attention focusing on specific details. See where that detail leads you. For example, imagine you're having trouble writing a letter to a friend explaining your side in a disagreement the two of you have had. While shuffling, you're remembering things that you and she said in that dispute. Now you draw the Queen of Pentacles. You see her gazing at the pentacle in her hands. Her expression is calm but thoughtful. The pentacle is important to her, just as a matter you see as trivial is important to your friend. Might you be able to take the matter more seriously?
If you're doing a reading for another person, this interpretation will be a part of the querent's own impressions of the card. This will be modified further for the querent by the ever-present influence of the issue on which the reading is based.
Through the interplay of the reader's and querent's psyches, the cards become a very powerful medium of communication.
While the cards themselves do not change, our subconscious interpretations of them do. Our moods are in a state of constant flux. Weather conditions, recent experiences, and random events all contribute to this. If you've just experienced a romantic disappointment your reading of The Lovers might have a touch of cynicism or sadness. This is perfectly fine as we are reading for that moment, not for some hypothetical universal reading.
Of course "book definitions" do matter. People like Waite and Crowley, Eden Gray and Rachel Pollack put years of study and experience into their writings. There is much to learn from their hard work. It's also important to realize there does need to be some standard interpretations on which to anchor our understanding of the Tarot.
Sometimes our quirks can affect our interpretations in interesting and unexpected ways. Say you draw the Judgment. As a Pagan, you might feel some unease or even hostility over such a blatantly Christian symbol. Then again, you might see it in a more humanistic light as an end to oppression. The tombs might remind you of a recent funeral you've attended, with accompanying emotions regarding the deceased... Or you might become somewhat distracted by the nude, gray-skinned, blonde woman and once again ponder your love life (or wonder if the cute blonde who works at your neighborhood pharmacy might be into body painting).
Reconciling these impressions with more conventional interpretations once again shows your mind at work. For each of the above examples a possible synthesis with a more traditional reading (renewal and rebirth) might be a strengthening of your Pagan values, a reawakening of your political sensibilities, coming to terms with your feelings regarding the deceased, or a renewed interest in romance (and perhaps adding a little color to your love life) .
It is useful to have several decks - particularly for solitaire practice. Each deck is its own experience. Even subtle differences in the picture are sufficient to trigger different memories. Differences in the decks themselves also matter. What do we make of the Crowley-Thoth deck for replacing Strength with Lust (and to what degree does our opinion of Aleister Crowley affect this impression)? What differences do decks using Princes and Princesses rather than Knights and Pages have in our interpretations? And what of novelty decks; what does the Page of Ewoks mean to you?
In thirty years, I've learned a lot from the cards. The tarot is the encyclopedia of the cosmos. Its seventy-eight cards contain an almost infinite number of possibilities; stories told by the layout of the cards.
Yet, by design, it is incomplete. You provide the missing part with your knowledge of the cards, your insights into human nature, and by developing a keen awareness of your own psyche; seeing your strengths and your flaws with equal clarity. It is a tool, an enigma, a plaything, and most of all, it is a language.
By studying that language, by learning its grammar and syntax, one can unlock its subtle mysteries and gain a better understanding of the world. And most importantly, it gives us the freedom to explore the possibilities the world offers us and gain a better understanding of ourselves.
We are limited only by our imagination.
Copyright: Copyright 2005 Dan Mulhollen
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
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