This week, I want to talk about tarot. I’ve already dedicated many column inches (blog post inches? Pixels?) to books, my other passion, but this week, the cards are on my mind.
The tarot kind of crept up on me. As a lover of a particular kind of fantasy novel, I am always drawn to anything with ritual objects in it, and I love a book where the cards have a key narrative role to play (see Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus for a fabulous deployment of the cartomancer trope). Being a bit of a cynic and… I was going to say atheist, but I don’t know if that’s how I’d describe myself. Being a spiritual person who does not believe in a god or adhere to a religious method or institution (am I agnostic? It’s not as if I’m unsure about this…), I’ve often sniffed at the New Age department. Take my most favourite phenomenon to deride – oracle cards. Let dolphins tell your future! How ridiculous.
Now I’m getting off track – I started out to write about tarot and got lost in making fun of oracle cards, which is probably unfair. Oracle cards have their place and it’s miserable of me to be so negative about them! What I mean is, divination was never really for me. My interest in tarot came from enjoying it as a literary device, which in time lead me to be curious enough read Robert Place’s history of the tarot, The Tarot: History, Symbolism and Divination. Place explores the fascinating lineage of the cards (evolving from a 15th Italian card game, sort of like bridge), and busts a few popular myths along the way (sorry Victorian spiritualists, they didn’t come from ancient Egypt).
Somehow, while claiming to maintain a purely academic interest in the tarot, something funny started to happen. These images, these ideas started to work on me. Quietly, at first. Several months went by. I wasn’t quite ready to become the sort of person who shopped from the New Age department, who owned a deck of cards, who actually used them. Then, I got over myself.
Now, I’m coming to the end of the first year of my tarot apprenticeship. I’ve experimented with several different decks, and spent my time reading, listening, and most importantly, throwing cards. I’ve made contact with a handful tarot sages and fellow students, who have been thoughtful, knowledgeable and generous without exception. Like any discipline, one’s apprenticeship never truly ends, and I’m under no illusions that I am even approaching a level of expertise. My journey continues daily. Though I don’t have a chance to get out my cards every single day, my mind feels as though it is connected to an electrical charge, perpetually stimulated, intellectually and creatively, by these figures, these suits and symbols, and the myriad ideas and experiences that they signify.
My approach to tarot remains highly practical. I am not a psychic. These mass produced bits of laminated cardboard cannot tell your future. What these 78 images can do, though, is signify thousands upon thousands of ideas, which in turn can start an infinite number of conversations about what it means to be a human being and to experience human experiences. Your future is not set in stone, and rather than try to predict where your life will take you, the cards can empower you to fashion a future for yourself that will allow you to express your purpose most effectively. That sounds woo-woo. What I mean is, these ideas will help you to clarify what it means to you to kick ass and take names, and what steps you need to take to make that a reality (not literally – don’t kick people).
Since beginning to talk openly about tarot, and beginning to read for myself and others, it has been confirmed for me that everyone is asking questions, all day long, about the best way to live. Tarot offers an opportunity to take this question and expand your thinking. 78 to the power of a zillion different prompts for new approaches, new ideas, new frameworks for existing. It’s a tool for storytelling, empowering the reader and the questioner to authorship of their own lives. To me, this seems like such an exciting gift. An opportunity not to be sniffed at.
In that spirit, I pulled a card to capture this first phase of my tarot study, and to send me on to my next adventure.
The Moon (from Norbert Losche’s Cosmic Tarot, my absolute favourite). A mysterious card, signifying secrets enacted under cover of darkness. Weirdness, amphibious, ambiguous thoughts. Entering the unconscious. Intuition, and reflection. Perfect.