One of the challenges facing the new Tarot student is coming to a personal understanding of what Tarot is or is not. Does it hold the answer for everything past and present, or is it just a collection of paper with pretty pictures? That’s a large spectrum to begin with, but I think the extremity of those positions is fairly honest in how both skeptics and enthusiasts see Tarot.
I’ve studied copious amounts of Tarot material, and the one thing I’ve taken away from it is this; Tarot, as modern readers and users know it, has very little in common with the card game (s) it was meant to be used for when it (or its very similar predecessor) was created in the 15th century. All the thousands of books on the Tarot are merely guides on how everyone else perceives Tarot, and if you’re using Tarot in any way as a spiritual/mystical/life informing-affirming tool you’re relying on a very kabbalistic/hermetic creation of the 19th century. Yes, you can read the Golden Dawn material and derive all the meanings that modern practitioners use (most without even knowing themselves where much of that symbolism derives from), you can read the how-to books, and those on Tarosophy…But if you honestly look at and question the Tarot what will be your personal stance on the cards?
My stance has mostly always been that Tarot is nothing special. I don’t charge my cards with crystals, I don’t assume they hold the keys to universal knowledge, and I don’t expect them to answer all the problems plaguing my sub-conscious. More than not I lean toward the Tarot being a bunch of paper with pretty pictures. Yet, I read Tarot and I work with Tarot nearly on a daily basis. Odd you say. Not really, I respond. Things in my opinion don’t hold power – people do.
Tarot is a repository of wisdom, yes. It is not wisdom in and of itself. Tarot bares (or can bare) in it’s images generations of knowledge, a heritage of what it means to live in a Western society. It conveys the psychological and sociological truths that we as modern individuals have been adapted to live within for hundreds of years at this point. The multi-layered fabric of the Tarot is woven from the threads of that which we all share, it’s a mirror reflecting the great ‘Dreaming’ of Western culture – the truths of work, relationships, life challenges, our emotional well being, religion, etc.
Crowley, in his popular book The Book of Thoth expounded that the Tarot is a representation of the Cosmos, that each card is also a being, and that the deck is literally the composition and culmination of the Wisdom of Thoth. I don’t think the Cosmos is written in the Tarot, I feel it’s wisdom is much more terrestrial and immediate to our lives – I don’t feel that each card is a unique entity but a mirror of our own existence – and Thoth had very little to do with the creation of a 15th century card game. And to be blunt true/historical Tarot should have nothing to do with Kabbalistic wisdom. Can it? Sure. The beauty of Tarot is that, again, it’s a reflection of what the Reader brings to it…I tend to be pretty rational (in my opinion) when using tools like Tarot. Some would say though that Tarot is a tool of the irrational..so there you go.
My tendency is toward seeing Tarot as a Reality Simulation device. It’s a technology that functions as a Simulation of events and life situations based in reality. Jean Baudrillard, a French sociologist is a great place to start with such thinking. He goes a bit further to say that perhaps most of our icons and the symbols of our society (which Tarot of course uses and probably IS) are mostly historical and even fictitious to the modern westerner, but I digress…There is a Tarot book by Emily Auger which discusses briefly these concepts, and even postulates that Tarot is a kind of Cyber Reality Simulation, which is an absolutely inspired way of looking at the Tarot. Cyber here means artificial or a Technology that has been manufactured or created, just as the Tarot is a technology; an artificial representation of reality. This concept really influenced my image of the Tarot and what it means to be a Reader – and the mental image of a Cyberpunk Astralnaut jacked into a fanned out Tarot spread while he co-mingles fiction, fact, and history into a hazy surreal blend of human potential is an awesome ideal.
Tarot, to end it all, is about what makes sense to you in your world. Just as the final Major is The World (or perhaps the Fool), it’s up to the journeyer to discover just what it will be. Use the books, use the websites, and the tutorials but remember that the mirror of the tarot is for you to understand and should not be used as just another technology meant to box you in.