Thinking about Tarot

Syd Weedon, 11/12/20

OK, Syd has gone completely off the reservation.

He’s writing about tarot cards.

The notion that a bunch of pretty cards with arcane symbols randomly placed into an arbitrary pattern could have any meaning at all for the real world is irrational. That’s true and the irrationality is essential to their operation. The irrationality must be there. If it could be explained it would not work. It would not be a firehose of unconscious content. It would be just a fun parlor trick.

The fact is that tarot does work when you bring your energy and imagination to it. I suppose the same thing could be said of the Bible although we’re not accustomed to thinking of the Bible in that way – images, pictures, stories, archetypes – when you expose your mind to these things a chemistry is activated. The unconscious, the intuition and imagination are given an opening to speak. We see pictures. We dream into stories.

Back in the early 1970’s tarot cards experienced a renaissance and received their first real mass production and distribution in the United States. I was just getting out of high school and into college, and I was fascinated by all things occult, the weirder the better. I bought the Rider-Waite deck (the old deck that most people visualize when they think about tarot) and then later I bought the Thoth deck designed by Aleister Crowley. I had remarkable success with the cards early on. I’m a graphic thinker so the images of the cards spoke easily to my intuition. At the same time, I was reading a lot of weird shit like Jung, Castaneda (later shown to be a fraud), Eliphas Levi, Waite, Kerouac,  Burroughs, Crowley, Blake, Aldous Huxley, Ezra Pound… all kinds of strange stuff. It was fun.

At some point I had to get serious about earning a living, did college and grad school and got a real job.  There was family and the struggles that come with that. The tarot cards got put away in a box somewhere and ultimately lost. I retired in 2018 with a raging case of hypertension. Then, in January of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Older now and not in perfect health, I had to take the quarantine seriously. That meant a lot of time alone with nothing to do against a backdrop of an apocalyptic virus and a country being run by an evil crazy man. I found myself wondering what the spirits might have to say. I bought new cards and the supporting books (on real paper).

It is unfortunate, but needs to be said, that I am thoroughly burned out with religion in general and Christianity in particular. The cards provided me a different vector of meditation and metaphysical imagination. The tarot became intellectually refreshing to me, especially after reading or re-reading some works by Carl Jung. The language of dreams is symbol; the language of the unconscious is symbol; the language of the tarot is symbol. I’m an active dreamer.

So, What Is Happening?

Imagine that you are in a house in a lovely wooded location. This house has an enormous picture window and beyond it are forests and mountains and streams – picture postcard stuff. But the window has a heavy blackout curtain which is drawn, and you see only by the light of a puny electric bulb. It is dark, dim, and completely non-distinct. You might as well be in downtown Chicago. The tarot is like pulling back those blackout curtains to see that whole beautiful world beyond the glass. The best readings speak more to the here-and-now than to the future.

I won’t attempt to explain why it works; I will say that it does work, and I want to make a few observations about it. The tarot teaches us the topography of the soul. Christianity may save your soul, but it doesn’t tell you anything about it. The tarot draws a map.

I understand my use of the tarot as opening my mind and soul to the energy of my own imagination and unconscious. I am inviting my shadow to come to dinner. I am opening my mind to the energies that swirl around me in the world. If a person wants to call that energy “spirits” I won’t argue with them. Everyone has to see their own path in their own way. Personally, I don’t need to personify the energies and forms of the world. If it helps someone else to do that, I don’t object. If someone wants to believe that the ghost of dear departed Uncle Harry is moving the cards around, and that works for them, I don’t argue. Perhaps, when properly understood, he is.

Tarot is a magical act. It looks for manifestation and synchronicity. It looks for connections. There is no reason that a shuffled set of cards laid out in a pattern should have any real relationship to the outside world. To say otherwise is irrational or non-rational. They are just pretty ink on paper but that pretty ink on the cards contains centuries of mystical and psychic insight. Each card is a story that someone, and probably ourselves have lived. Who knows why they fall in particular positions and create certain meanings? “It happens” is the best way to leave it. If you overthink this you will kill it. With tarot, you learn to trust your intuition and imagination.

Synchronicity

This was an idea discovered by Dr. Jung. Synchronicity is an meaningful connection where no obvious connection exists. We all experience these all the time but we don’t pay attention to them. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by the exact same number of electoral college votes that Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by, 306 to 232. It’s like the universe putting its imprimatur to the election. While there is no obvious rational connection between the two scores, it seems to carry meanings. What are the odds?

I watch for synchronicities so I see them a lot. Often mine appear in numbers. I often do numerology on the date of the day. Sometimes it is something as simple as the perfect song coming on the radio at the perfect time and I feel at peace with the world if only for a couple of minutes. Someone will say something strange to me and it resonates because I was thinking the same thing a couple of days ago or I dreamed it the night before. Synchronicity is an experience when separate events happen which have no logical connection with each other and yet they jump out at you with the connection of their meanings. Jung’s definition of synchronicity is “a meaningful coincidence of two or more events where something other than the probability of chance is involved.”

The tarot tunes the reader into the synchronicities in life. When you read the tarot, you develop a sensitivity to the symbolic connections in our experience.

Manifestation

We watch for manifestation when we do magical works. Say you do some sort of focusing of your will, call it a spell if you like, and you watch for results. You watch for the echoes or manifestation of your work on the real world. Perhaps you do an operation to improve your health and you look in the mirror and you appear younger and more vital. That would be a manifestation. If you get a set of numbers in your head and buy a winning lottery ticket with them, that would be a manifestation. Manifestation is the result of setting your will to something and making it happen by primarily mental means. It’s not particularly esoteric. Recently, I looked up the phases of the moon. When I had gotten the info I was after, I shuffled my tarot cards and laid down the single card spread, the card of the day. It was the Moon card. This was a small synchronicity and manifestation, but it certainly got my attention. I have those things with the cards all the time.

Jung would say (and he probably did somewhere) that the tarot, especially the 22 cards of the Major Arcana are archetypes of human consciousness. They are the citizens of our dreams and the muses of our art. They are symbols by which the unconscious or shadow communicates.  With their beauty, names, and numbers they distract the meddling conscious mind, allowing the imagination and intuition to interact actively with the archetypes and the energies surrounding them. Sometimes I don’t “get” a reading until long after I have put the cards away. Sometimes I will get a card that jumps out at me but I don’t know why, but it just has a lot of mojo about it. I put away the cards and go about the day and then I will see the card manifest some way in the real world. Perhaps the card is the two of disks and I walk out to the alley and someone will ride by on a bicycle. Perhaps the stand out card will be a court card, say a page or a queen and later I will get a phone call from someone who corresponds to the person on the card.

It must be mentioned while we are thinking about how it works, that the tarot is built on the mystical alpha-numeric system of the Hebrew Qabalah. There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana and they each correspond to one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. There are ten sephiroth on the “tree of life,” the qabalistic structure of the cosmos, and there are ten cards in each suit of the Minor Arcana. Fours are everywhere because the name of God has four characters, and that four letter name is the starting point for the whole mystical system of Qabalah. In the tarot there are four suits and four court cards per suit. Each suit corresponds to one of the four elements. Once you get the qabalistic position of a card you also automatically have the astrological correspondences for the card. Tarot is actually a very tidy mystical system that operates on many levels.

In the Qabalah, existence proceeds by a process of emanation from the one who is no-thing, the one who precedes existence itself, out (or down) to our material reality. The further the emanation is from the first, the more degraded and weaker it becomes. Our world of sight and sound is at the very bottom of the qabalistic cosmos. It is the last emanation. The important message of the “tree of life” is that all of the ten sephiroth are connected to each other. There are paths by which energy, blessing, insight and spirit flow and move constantly. It is not a static system. Our consciousness can also move up the tree to higher states of consciousness. When we work with tarot cards, we are imprinting that mystical system on our souls.

Awash as we are in these fields of mystical energy and synchronicity, perhaps it is not so mysterious that we can lay down cards randomly and yet they still seem to fall in meaningful patterns.

Into the Mystic

Divination is for slumber parties. It’s a fun party game, but all of the adepts speak with one voice on this: if we see the tarot as a tool for fortune telling, we are missing the point. It is a certainty that sometimes the cards speak to something in the future. Prior to the election of 2020 I did three different readings on the crazy man in the White House and they all said the same thing: he was headed for ruin, and he’ll try to take the country with him, but, and this is important, the cards consistently said that he would be stronger than we expected. That played out too. Divinations of the future do happen, but that’s not the real purpose of doing a reading. The tarot is a map of the world, inner and outer.

If not for fortune telling, of what use are tarot cards? I didn’t say you couldn’t do divination with them; I said that if that’s all you see in them, you’re missing the best goodies they have to offer. Psychics, practitioners of ceremonial magick and many wiccans use the cards to strengthen the psychic muscles. Working with the cards activates the intuition and imagination. We focus mind energy and activate the archetypes. The forms and colors work at the intuitive and aesthetic levels of our awareness. We see the roadmaps of our own spiritual journeys, and get a sense of the spiritual processes going on around us and in us. People often notice that their psychic abilities improve. Their dreams are more vivid. The flashes of illumination are stronger.

The Magician and The Fool

I read the cards at night. I burn sage and set my crystals around them. They tell me stories and send messages. They are seldom wrong. My favorite cards are The Magician and The Fool. The Fool carries the Universe inside of him and the Magician makes it work. My mind flies into the cards and collides with the archetypes making sparks and sound. I have done this all my life and it still fascinates me.    

If you are interested in these things like I am, leave me a comment. Let’s talk.   

6 comments

  1. I have never known anyone who was intereated in this.You certainly cast a spell on me tonight
    I’ll be returning for a more in depth read.I share your feelings about Christianity.Yet I know there are important symbols within it.
    Have a good weekend [ it’s dark, wet and unpleasant here] I found this part of your blog & the grandfather
    Katherine

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad I cast the spell. The tarot has always been a fun/intriguing/captivating thing for me. Some nights I see nothing in the cards. Other nights it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

      Christianity is difficult for me. I think that’s a place where we connect. I did it professionally for a very long time and it left me spiritually desolate. I have been looking for alternatives since then.

      Liked by 1 person

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