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It’s been a long time since I was really excited and intrigued by a new ‘how-to’ book on reading the Tarot. Dr. Yoav Ben-Dov’s Tarot—The Open Reading is a book I just have to share with you. Ben-Dov describes the Tarot as a work of art, through whose details a full range of human experiences can be revealed. First, the book features the Marseilles Tarot deck—a deck that’s gaining greater interest and appreciation among English-speaking Tarotists. This deck is pre-occultized, as the images are not modified to conform with esoteric systems. While not identical to early 15th century decks, it expresses a folk tradition that dominated for at least three hundred years (out of the nearly 600 year history of Tarot) and is still the major style found in much of Europe. Additionally, Ben-Dov has created what I believe to be the most elegant restoration of the classic Conver Marseille deck available (see below). This process aided him in his close attention to detail in the cards.
What has been notably missing in English Tarot literature are good, non-Waite-based meanings for the four suits. You need look no further. The focus here is on reading the cards through the scenarios one perceives when looking at the images. For the Majors, Ben-Dov says the possibilities are open. Nevertheless, he points out valuable interpretive perspectives derived from symbolic, historical and mythological associations, many of which I found both original and obvious (once-stated)—in other words, extremely helpful as kick-starter phrases for the cards. Through comparison and contrast of visual details he demonstrates how the cards relate to one another. Emphasis is on a therapeutic approach, rather than being predictive or proscriptive. Providing an excellent introduction to practical reading skills, he stresses developing familiarity with psychological practices, for which he specifically recommends Irvin D. Yalom’s outstanding guide to interacting effectively with clients, The Gift of Therapy.
Previous authors stressed one of three approaches to the Minor pip cards: 1) a straightforward transfer of the Waite-Smith Minor Arcana meanings to the Marseille deck, 2) a memorized meanings often derived from Etteilla, or 3) a personal synthesis of number-plus-suit meanings for each card. Ben-Dov bases his Minor Arcana explications on the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky, emphasizing visual cues in the cards along with number, which make their arrangements ‘sensible,’ and therefore easy to learn and build on. His descriptions of the thematic progression within the Major and Minor suits provide an immediate handle on each. In keeping with his therapeutic approach, the Court Cards represent attitudes and characteristics of the querent rather than other people, although there’s nothing to stop you from applying them to others. I only wish that Ben-Dov had included sample readings utilizing the Minors like he did for the Majors, as his examples were so insightful.
Spreads are kept simple, with some innovative approaches to working with both Major and Minor suit cards that are well-worth trying out. His instructions for creating your own spreads gives you an infinite palette of deeply meaningful options to choose from.
I have two pet peeves: Ben-Dov completely ignores the first two hundred years of Tarot’s history when he describes the Marseille Tarot as the ‘genuine model’, with the ‘true order’ for the cards, saying it offers, “the most faithful and accurate representation of the ancient Tarot symbols.” The oldest decks (15th century Italian) are quite different in style, and there were several different orders for the cards in its first century. It would be better to describe the Marseille-style decks as the most long-lasting, consistent design (which is not to be scoffed at). My second pet peeve involves misunderstandings of the Golden Dawn system of Tarot reading, resulting in minor errors that are not centrally relevant to this work. Personally, I think he should have left out his few Golden Dawn references or listed the differences in an appendix.
Overall, this book offers fresh, practical instructions for reading the Marseille Tarot that will give you a great appreciation for the details and special characteristics of the deck that first inspired tarot divination. Additionally you will gain lots of valuable insights into the reading process itself.
Note: Yoav Ben-Dov has generously made his deck and basic interpretations freely available for use for non-commercial purposes via the Creative Commons concept – http://www.cbdtarot.com/download/
Have you ever noticed that after seeing some films you are snappish or silent, yearning or ponderous, giggly or jumpy, and that the affects can last for minutes, hours or even days, abducting us from our normal means of perception?
I was reading one of my all-time favorite books Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram and came to the part where he describes his own growing awareness that certain movies and books would “surreptitiously enter into my bloodstream, like a contagion . . . a curious spell that my organism was under.” He further characterizes these effects as a “capacity for being drawn, physiologically, into the terrain of certain stories—abducted into another landscape that would only belatedly release me back into the palpable present.” His description is reminiscent of being stolen away into the land of fairy.
I recently experienced such a state after going to see “Beasts of the Southern Wild”: my friends noticed that I couldn’t speak after the movie and that I refused their ride so I could walk home alone. I realized that Abram’s insights provided a second part to my established practice of active reading and movie-viewing, in which I draw cards before partaking of the work so as to sharpen my perception and enrich my understanding and appreciation of the work. Based on Abram’s commentary I’ve designed a spread that assists us in seeing how a work ensorcells us, temporarily coloring our perceptions and feelings and even influencing our actions.
Place the first six cards in a clockwise circle, beginning at the top, with the seventh card in the center.
1. What feeling tone colors my general outlook after seeing the film (or reading the book)?
2. How does this influence my immediate approach or response to things?
3. What fears does it stir?
4. What longings awaken?
5. What shifts do I perceive in my immediate surroundings? How do I see things differently?
6. What do I need from those around me? And, once I’ve answered that: How can I give this to myself?
7. What is the major lesson that this work offers me?
I went to see this movie because some friends had invited me, based on the recommendation of another friend. Before going I knew nothing about it and couldn’t even remember the title. So, I thought I’d try out the Petit Lenormand cards as a prediction of plot. I got Lilies-Clouds-Snake-Scythe-Whip, all of them Court Cards. Turns out it was pretty darn accurate for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” It’s a coming-of-age mythic fable about a little girl, Hushpuppy, and her father who live on a fragile island, the Bathtub, south of the Louisiana dikes in the Gulf. It also features other people who exist in these unbelievably harsh conditions (all the Court Cards). There’s the dying father, a huge storm, a wise female teacher (as well as a dream-like encounter with a mother-figure), the poisoning of the creatures on the island, breaking through the dike, lots of arguments, and the inhabitants battle with the authorities. It’s an emotionally wrenching film with incredible acting – especially by the young girl and her father.
I drew five cards:
- Lilies -Family (also innocence and Father)
- Clouds – the Storm
- Snake – Poison/Wise Woman (at the center)
- Scythe – Decision to stay on the island; Death and Destruction
- Whip – Arguments, violent activity
An even better way to read Lenormand is in pairs:
- Lilies+Clouds – disfunctional family or problems with the father.
- Clouds+Snake – bad mojo, lack of clarity regarding a woman.
- Snake+Scythe – cut off from a woman; a treacherous decision; a poisonous death.
- Scythe+Whip – violent cutting, a decisive battle.
I was prepared for what could be a very dark, tragic film. It almost was, but something else broke through. My strongest thought during the intermission (they have to change the reels at our local art theatre) was, I couldn’t live like that! Several people left.
I later did a reading with the Mary-El Tarot to help me explore my conscious and unconscious reactions, responding directly to her images. I’ll only mention a few brief highlights of what I saw.
1. What colors my general outlook? 5 of Wands. First thought on looking at the growling red lion: “red-in-tooth-and-claw”. I had a very visceral reaction that touched on my most primitive fight-flight-freeze physiology.
2. How does this influence my immediate approach or response to things? 10 of Wands. This shows a warrior with bow and arrows on a horse. Flight. But I also wanted to be a defender of the movie to those who were repelled by it.
3. What fears does it stir? Page of Disks. This image of a sleeping baby with marks like nails surrounding it arouses my protectiveness. I fear that something primally innocent – the exquisite nature of the sentiment in the film – might be harmed. I also fear that I might slumber when I should awaken.
4. What longings awaken? Knight of Disks. The next stage of maturity: Knight as protector of the Page/Baby of Disks. This immediately reminded me of the scene shown in the lead photo above. I long to stand up for and to what might otherwise overwhelm us.
5. What shifts do I perceive in my immediate surroundings? How do I see things differently? 7 of Disks. I see a split, like two separate meteors. I am aware of the lack of words when I feel drawn out of myself.
6. What do I need from those around me? How can I give this to myself? The Tower. Strong words and opinions. Instead, both I and my friends retreated into silence. I can give myself the words, the surpressed fury, the burning to act on this film in some way.
7. What is the major lesson that this work offers me? Ace of Wands. That some creative spark can be birthed out of this fiery angelic torment. The reading is all Fire and Earth.
Words still fail me. Please let me know what you thought of the film and/or your experience in reading cards for enhancing your experience of films and books.
James Redfield’s book The Celestine Prophecy recently came up in a discussion.
I read the book when Redfield first self-published it (he couldn’t find a publisher at the time), as he had given a copy to my brother-in-law. I saw it as a parable consisting of “new age” lessons made palatable through its story form. None of the ideas were new to me and the story was nothing more than a teaching device, but I enjoyed being reminded of things that I had experienced myself when “in the flow.” Reading it reminded me of how it is possible to live in that kind of “reality” (at least for short periods) and what magic can arise from it.
Flying home from a trip to visit my then-husband’s parents, as I read the book on the plane, I was especially intrigued by one section. Having just seen his parents, I asked my husband the same series of questions that the protagonist had been asked about his parents. As a result, Ed and I had one of the most deeply meaningful discussions ever about his life purpose or quest (as revealed through his beliefs about his parents).
When I got home I turned the process into a tarot spread that I’ve since used in many tarot workshops and occasional private consultations (always giving credit). I found it far more powerful to do with Tarot, since the cards suggest what may be, at first, a confusing possibility that, once comprehended, can contain a major breakthrough. This spread/process has resulted in significant insights for people. And, for siblings, and those who never knew one or both parents, it has fostered some remarkable healings.
For each question draw two cards—placing them in two parallel columns: one for your father and one for your mother (keep face down). Turn over and read the cards for one parent first and only after that for the other parent.
The key is to realize that this is not about your actual parents but about your perception of them. The interpretative process should be more about brainstorming possibilities than about applying set meanings. What memories or associations do the cards trigger?
Cards 1 & 2: What did your father(1) / mother(2) stand for and believe in?
Cards 3 & 4: In what way(s) did your father(3) / mother(4) achieve this?
Cards 5 & 6: What kept your father(5) / mother(6) from doing it perfectly?
Cards 7 & 8: What meaning or truth did YOU learn from the above experiences of your father(7) / mother(8)?
Cards 9 & 10: What would you have changed about your father(9) / mother(10) that would have enabled him or her to have a better life?
Use the same cards received above (moving them to their own area of the table) and apply the same conclusions you’ve already drawn (although feel free to add new ones). You’ll be looking at these cards from a different perspective.
Cards 7 & 8 (from Part One): What is the Higher Synthesis or Truth for YOU based on what you learned from your parents? You derive this by blending Cards 7 & 8 along with the insights you had about them.
For instance, a summary of your earlier insights might be: My Higher Synthesis or Truth is that I believe in 7:”standing up for” 8:”the beauty of life.”
Cards 9 & 10 (from Part One): What do you want to find out how to do? This is based on your being able to integrate and do what you believe your father and mother SHOULD have done to live a better life.
Summarize this as:
My Life Quest is to find out how to ________. Combine 9 & 10 into a statement reflecting what you think they each should have done.
For instance, My Life Quest is to find out how to 9:”live my own truth” while 10:”caring deeply for others.” This might also be stated as, “. . . know the truth in myself about caring for and being sensitive to others.”
From this perspective, your Life Quest is to fulfill what you perceive as lacking in your parent’s lives—what you see as their unfulfilled potential or destiny. You combine these perceptions, deriving from the combination something that is unique to you. Thus, it is a kind of spiritual DNA.
As Carl Jung noted: “What usually has the strongest psychic effect on the child is the life which the parents . . . have not lived.” (The Red Book)
I’ll always be grateful to James Redfield and The Celestine Prophecy for this process.
Recently, at PantheaCon (a huge pagan conference in San Jose, California), I led a “Tarot Intel Circle” with around a hundred people and was asked by several participants to provide a description so they could do it themselves. There are two forms of this process: the “Intel Circle” that can be done with any number of people from a dozen to over a hundred, and the “Tarot Council Circle” that works best with around 6 to 16 people. Each person in either circle gets to be both a Questioner and a Respondent. At most workshops the participants range from those who’ve never read a tarot card to professional readers and everything in between. Everyone gets something out of it, and it often provides a huge kick-start to one’s intuitive abilities—opening a door and switching something on in the psyche. It’s a good process to use at the beginning of a tarot course.
The Questioner usually focuses on one issue or situation about which they want to gather information, although they can change the issue at any time. In both Circles it is helpful to begin by asking, “What do I most need to look at around _(insert issue)_?“ It can be as specific as, “around the problem with the person at work who is driving me crazy” or as general as “around my life purpose.” As the process continues, Questioners can keep asking the same question or reframe it to focus on different aspects of the issue.
Questions should be brief and to the point. The Respondent draws a tarot card (more about this later) and, based on impressions from that card, responds to the question. Usually only a minute or so is allowed for each response before moving on to the next person and question. No response is right or wrong, but rather it offers information, options and possibilities, or layers of meaning. No card meaning is right or wrong. As a Respondent, you don’t have to fix anything!—which is my number one rule.
UPDATE: I now have permission to tell you that the germ of these processes was the “Tarot Profiling Game” created by Australian artist, Peter Rosson (1954-2002) and taught to me by Sally Bain (Rosson) – also here. It was devised for a small group to explore right/left brain interaction, the creative process, and as a means of “profiling” a personal issue. While Sally gave me permission to develop and use the “game” in my own way, she was at first reluctant to associate it with Peter’s very specifically-designed artist’s concept. May this seeding of his creative brilliance continue to grow and flourish.
The Intel Circle
The Intel Circle consists of an inner and outer circle with the same number of people in each, facing each other. The outer circle stays in place (and those who need to sit can do so), while the inner circle stands and moves one person to the right for each question/response interaction. I call time, direct the movement, and I change the rules for each interaction (leaders: a mic and gong are very helpful with large groups). Before we begin, the Questioners draw five cards each from a mixed pool of several tarot decks and will keep these same cards as long as they are Questioners. These cards contain the keys to their issue. As each interaction begins, they ask their question, and the Respondent (across from them) draws one of their five cards, looks at it and responds to the question. Then I ring the bell, the card is returned, and the inner circle moves one person to the right, where a new interaction (with a new prompt) begins. Karen Krebser described her experience as “controlled chaos” with no time for self-doubt.
I’ve provided sample “prompts” for each interaction below. After six or seven interactions everyone switches roles, so that the Questioner can be the Respondent and vice-versa.
The Council Circle
For the smaller Council Circle everyone sits in a close circle (can be around a table) facing everyone else, with one or more decks in the center. The first person addresses their question to the person to their left, who pulls a card and responds. The Respondent then becomes Questioner, turns to the person to their left and asks their own question, that person responds, and so on clockwise around the circle. After responding to a question, people often need to be reminded to switch into asking/Questioner mode as it involves a right-brain/left-brain switch. It is worth becoming aware of how this switch operates in yourself. As leader, I change the “rules” or prompts with each round. After a couple of rounds we change direction (so the question is asked of the person to your right). If doing a long session of several hours, you can have everyone sit in a different seat after a break. In the Council Circle, the leader can also be a participant and usually starts and ends each round.
Towards the end of the whole process, have one person ask a question while each of the others draws a card with which to respond to the question. You can follow with another person asking a question, draw only one card for the whole group, and everyone responds in turn to that that one card. These final questions can be personal, but it’s also a good opportunity to explore spiritual, community and/or world issues. In the Council Circle much more group rapport is built as everyone hears each person’s questions and the responses.
I frequently remind participants that it is up to the questioner to determine what works for him or herself—that this is information-gathering from which they are to pick and choose what seems most meaningful and relevant to themselves. Handled well, it should end up with a deep bonding and a sense of being seen and supported by the whole.
The leader is responsible for seeing that the pace moves briskly along, that no one challenges, harangues or criticizes another, and that no one tries to impose their views. The Respondent responds to, rather than “answers” the question. The responses may be possible actions for the questioner to consider but should never be insisted upon. Respondents should not be allowed to lecture or argue for their perspective, nor should other participants question someone’s interpretation. It can sometimes be wise to begin a response with: “If this were my issue, I’d . . .” Personally, I offer gentle but frequent reminders that as respondents, we “don’t have to fix anything,” as this is an essential theme for me. Always support the Questioner’s assessment, for the questioner is the final arbiter of his or her own life. The most relevant information tends to rise to the top. On the other hand, encourage everyone to open themselves to new possibilities.
What is said in the circle stays in the circle and should never be mentioned elsewhere. Trust is paramount, which is especially apparent in the Council Circle.
At the beginning and end, the leader should take a couple of minutes to ground, center and focus everyone, state the group intent, and open (or close) the relevant energy centers for intuitive work. If appropriate to the situation you can set wards and call in guides. An informal-style Council Circle can work in a quiet, supportive social environment without needing a ritual format, but the leader should still be in control and gently guide the process.
It’s usually best to use decks that have story-telling images on all the cards. Respondents can draw from a single deck, a selection of decks, or a bunch of decks mixed in a “pool,” or a set of cards (or deck) held by the Questioner. It’s also okay to have the Questioner draw a card and hand it to the Respondent. Whatever works!
Most of the following prompts are for the Respondent, but a few require something from the Questioner. While I usually begin with the same first few, I vary the later prompts as my own intuition directs me. The Respondent should begin speaking immediately and for the entire time given, repeating thoughts, if necessary. When in doubt, simply describe the card! Each item below consists of one interaction lasting a brief one to two minutes. Indented items are part of the prior interaction and may require slightly more time. Occasionally ask the Questioner to summarize what they’ve learned so far (a few summary points are suggested below). For most of the interactions the Questioner remains silent except for asking the question. Note: it’s okay for the Questioner to see the card drawn.
After the Questioner asks their question, the Respondent draws a card and—
• responds with the first thing on the card that catches his or her eye.
• responds by literally describing the image on the card (no meanings or interpretation allowed).
-follow by prompting the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are . . .”).
• responds by describing what seems to be the emotions, feelings and attitude of the figure(s) on the card and the mood and atmosphere of the environment.
-follow by prompting the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are feeling . . .”).
• the Questioner thinks the question silently (not aloud) and the Respondent responds with something suggested by the card.
• responds with a question (that is, answer a question with a question based on the card drawn).
-Optional: Questioner says what the Respondent’s question brought up.
• responds by not looking at the card (draw one but don’t look at it).
• breathes in the card and then responds with ONE word.
-Optional: Questioner tells how that word is relevant to their question.
• responds with one or more metaphors, aphorisms or sayings based on the literal image (“Been down so long it looks like up to you.” “Beggars can’t be choosers.” “You’ve got the whole world in your hands.” “It’s like being stuck on a fence.”)
• responds with what the person “should do.” (The Questioner can be asked to phrase their question accordingly: “What should I do about . . . ?”)
• responds with what the person “shouldn’t do.” (Ditto. Have the “should/shouldn’t” prompts follow each other.)
• responds with a wild, crazy fairytale using the card as the illustration, and beginning “Once upon a time . . .”
-prompt the Respondent to repeat everything they just said in the 2nd person, present tense (“You are . . .”).
• responds with “The lesson of this card is . . .”
• responds with “The worst case scenario described by this card is . . .”
• responds with “The best case scenario is . . .” (Pair it with the preceding.)
• responds as if the Respondent were a figure on the card, by speaking as that figure.
• responds with “Yes, if . . .” or “No, if . . .” or “Maybe, if . . .”. (Have the Questioner ask a yes/no question.)
• Have the Questioner say how all these responses relate to their issue. (Can insert this whenever it seems appropriate—not too often, but definitely at the end.)
I sometimes end with each person creating an affirmation based on the qualities that they perceive in one of the cards that they most want to develop in themselves, and committing to an action that is in alignment with that.
For Further Development
Many more possibilities are suggested by the exercises in my book 21 Ways to Read a Tarot Card, which also presents techniques that will make you a more effective and empathic leader of this kind of group process. See especially Step 21 for the affirmation process and the “Traps and Solutions” in Appendix H.
James Wells’ reports on his experience when I taught this process at Readers Studio 2010.
Check out this podcast interview with me and Leisa Refalo at The Tarot Connection – Episode #93.
Here’s an excellent program: BBC – History of Magic – Mentalism.
and continued here (with additional links to the rest of the program).
Mentalism is great and astonishing entertainment except when used to defraud. The bigger problem arises from the assumption that all tarot and psychic experiences are nothing more than similar trickery. The program explains that magicians have “pirated” much of their effects from the spiritual, but then claims that mentalism goes back to the Delphic Oracle, suggesting that the Oracle was simply a scam. Admittedly, techniques associated with mentalism and stage magic have traditionally held a place in shamanism and tribal healing arts. What I am advocating is becoming aware of what we are doing as tarot readers and doing it in the most ethical way possible.
While there are lots of ways to read the cards, I believe that, consciously or not, most face-to-face tarot readers use at least a few skills that have been deemed ‘cold reading,’ in that many of these are simply normal human modes of communication that can hardly be avoided. If you want to totally avoid any such issue then readings by (e)mail should suffice.
Part 2: Hijacking What It Means to Be Human
(Read Part 1 to learn about mentalists, skeptics and cold reading.)
Imagine my surprise when I discovered there are at least a half-dozen extremely expensive books marketed by mentalists on tarot, of which I’d never heard in my forty-plus years collecting tarot books. And, they were written by and for professional tarot readers that I didn’t even know existed as a self-identified group. Of course, I was aware there are fraudulent tarot readers who deliberately used cold reading techniques to con their marks. Naively, I had assumed, though, that cold reading was used mostly by fake mediums and clairvoyants (as in the 19th century) and by mentalist entertainers. I had no idea that tarot was regularly taught as a scam except among some phone psychics and those storefront psychics who used it to extort money for removing curses, etc.—a whole different, albeit related, enterprise. [Note: some mentalists are also ethical tarot readers, and not all mentalists deny the paranormal. I am also not referring, in most of what follows, to ethical mentalists who are honest about using mental tricks.] Read the rest of this entry »
Part I: Skeptics, Mentalists and Tarot Readers
For purposes of this article let us assume that there is no paranormal or spiritual aspect to tarot readings. Let’s pretend, for the moment, that all tarot readings have a rational basis in easily explained normal human skills.
Skeptics and mentalists reduce tarot reading to just this level. Mentalists utilize skills to make money in public performances, while skeptics denounce any tarot or psychic readings that don’t acknowledge they are merely mental tricks. They claim “pseudo-psychics” exploit human weaknesses and take advantage of the desire to easily gain benefit from something. Pseudo-psychic readings are seen as “too-good-to-be-true” and as giving false hope just to make money. Skeptics claim that psychic and tarot readings can be explained by techniques gathered under the terms Cold and Hot Readings. We will ignore hot readings (that fraudulently use information obtained ahead of time) as our purpose is to examine readings where nothing prior is known about the client. Read the rest of this entry »
The New York Times reporter Ruth La Ferla has written an article, “Love, Jobs & 401(k)s” about the popularity of psychics (including tarot readers) in the economic downturn. It seems that business is booming in this profession. La Ferla quotes one stock trader as saying, ““When conditions are this volatile, consulting a psychic can be as good a strategy as any other.” To which she responds that when the Treasury secretary changes his mind weekly “a good set of tarot cards might come in handy.” Read the rest of this entry »
Scholarly-oriented readers will appreciate a paper on Tarot by Inna Semetsky called “Simplifying Complexity: Know Thyself…and Others” in Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 2008, Vol. 5, No. 1 (click on the title and it will download as a pdf). Dr. Semetsky is a Research Academic with the Institute of Advanced Study for Humanity, University of Newcastle, Australia who has been writing scholarly papers on tarot for many years. Drawing on semiotics, systems theory, and ideas about meaning and synchronicity (among others), she posits that Tarot “can be considered an education tool contributing to our learning and, respectively, the evolution of the human mind situation in the larger, both cultural and natural, context.”
In relation to my earlier post on Arcana in the Adytum, I found Semetsky’s description of arcanum to be especially interesting:
Arcanum (or arcana, plural) . . . is the ever present potential catalyst . . . that, when actualized and brought to consciousness, elicits transformations at the levels of thoughts, affects, and actions so that an individual becomes fruitful and creative in his/her possible endeavours. If and when discovered – that is, made manifest at the level of conscious awareness – it becomes a powerful motivational force to facilitate a change for the better at the emotional, cognitive, and/or behavioral levels and thus to accomplish important educational and ethical objectives.
Semetsky also talks about reading tarot as pattern-recognition and the identifying of probabilities of what is likely to happen rather than making fixed predictions. You can read her academic profile here, find more of her publications here and listen to her talk about tarot on La Trobe Philosophy Radio show here.
The discerning reader will want to compare this paper with a response by James Anthony Whitson (same link above) who appeals to Wittgenstein to determine whether it is even seemly to be “effing . . . the ineffable.” (Love that technical jargon!)
Thanks to Jean-Michel David and the latest issue of the Association for Tarot Studies (ATS) Journal for drawing attention this article.
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?