Is prediction what tarot reading is all about? What if it is not to learn that a particular thing is going to happen but, rather, to explore later what those cards can teach us about what does happen? What if the reading is simply to make us spiritually or psychologically aware of what’s really important and significant in life events—to wake us up to how the outer and the inner reflect each other in a meaningful way?
As an example, I’ll describe a very powerful experience a group of us had in one of my classes (permission granted to tell this story). I had proposed an experiment in prediction. Each member of the class was to draw a Major Arcana card to signify the most significant archetype that would be functioning over the following week. They were then to draw two Minor Arcana cards that would describe the situation that archetype would function within—giving us the particular circumstances and literal details. As a group we made predictions that would be evaluated the following week. (Without reading any further you may want to look at the three cards below and think what prediction you would make.)
The cards Heidi drew from the RWS deck were Judgment, Three of Swords, and Knight of Pentacles. Knowing that Heidi’s father had recently died, we predicted that her feelings of grief for her father would be strongly triggered but would result in some kind of awakening or acceptance of her loss. She told us she would be going to his home three hours away to tie up his financial affairs and we warned that going through his papers would probably be very difficult.
When we gathered the following week Heidi told us that the reading had referred to a very specific dangerous and traumatic event. Given that the assignment was prediction, she wondered (as did we all) why no one had been able to warn her so she could have avoided it.
She had gone to the bank to close her father’s accounts when a man with a gun came in to rob the bank. As the robber waved his gun around, Heidi dropped to the floor in fear for her life. The robber even stepped on her shoulder when he took money from that cashier’s window. To add to it all, he had taken a bank deposit box withdrawal slip containing the address of her father’s house.
When a customer stupidly ran after the robber, Heidi had held and comforted his young daughter, assuring her that her father would be all right (although she couldn’t know that) and that the robber wouldn’t return.
She felt that Judgment referred to her fear for her life. Heidi had faced the thought that she might be meeting her maker. The Three of Swords was her terror and anguish, and the Knight of Pentacles was the robber (jumping in a getaway car with the money), as well as herself (traveling to the bank to deal with money issues). He might even have been the “hero” who tried to stop the robber from getting away. And, of course, it was her father leaving her.
The archetypal images in the Judgment card include a guardian angel, a “wake up call,” emergence from some kind of “boxed” thinking, and a child and parents. Something about being a child to a parent appeared to be breaking into consciousness. Having just lost her father, plenty of early childhood issues were being triggered in Heidi. She was able to be both guardian angel to a terrified child and the child herself.
Heidi also noted that, like in the movie Roshamon, everyone’s judgment varied. Each person at the scene described the robber differently (the three swords crossing each other). And, while most people turned in only a few lines of written description to the police, she had written at least a page and a half, even while realizing that her own judgments might be coloring what she said. Judgment would never mean the same thing to her again!
The strangest thing Heidi found was that she was left with a tremendous fear of revolving glass doors leading outside, and she remembers having had this fear when she was younger—although we didn’t have time in class to explore that. The revolving metal holding the glass was like the metal of the three crossed swords. Of course, death itself is a painful doorway—especially to those left behind on the other side. In essence, Heidi had been robbed of her father, but she ended up assuring a little girl (as well as the child within herself) that both her father and she would be all right. Would it have served her as well to have avoided the situation all together?
Everyone in class agreed that they could never have predicted a bank robbery from the cards Heidi had drawn. However, looking back on the incident, we saw how perfectly they describe the robbery. Much more importantly, they indicate how Heidi was affected and point to unconscious complexes that were triggered by the events. An experience she’ll never forget also became a rich vein of personal alchemical gold that Heidi will be able to mine for years, using the cards in the reading as guides to layers of healing.
So, is tarot best at prediction (since it is too often a hit-or-miss proposition), or is it more ideal for reliably exploring the deeper significance of whatever does happen?