March 27, 2010 § 4 Comments
This morning I reached the decision that I would no longer predict the future. The reasons for this are long and varied and best saved for another post (or novel-length treatise) but rest assured I have been giving this some thought for some time.
About half an hour later, I was looking for a book to read/browse and felt a strong urge to choose The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder. This is a book I read once about 15 years ago and it has sat on my shelf ever since as I’d like to re-read it one day. I opened it somewhere in the middle, flicked back a few pages to the beginning of the chapter entitled “Six of Clubs” and started reading. A couple of pages in, a character in the book says “The future lies in the cards”.
And this is the kind of thing that messes with my head all the time. Does tarot work or doesn’t it? Can we predict the future or not? What is the significance of choosing a book at random, opening it to a random page and reading “the future lies in the cards” half an hour after deciding the that statement just isn’t true? If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll (hopefully) know I have a pretty sensible approach to tarot. I made Tarot Stripped Bare, a DVD that goes out of its way to poo-pooh even the teensiest claim that tarot is somehow supernatural. For me, tarot is fun, practical and not the least bit spooky. And yet…
I have a deck, the Aquarian Tarot. It was the first deck I bought for myself. Ever since I bought it, I’ve kept it wrapped in a red silk cloth. It gives scarily good readings – I mean, jaw-dropping, messages-from-beyond-the-grave-type readings. Is that because I wrapped it in silk?
Last week, I drew the Hierophant from the Mountain Dream twice. Consequently, he has been sitting on my desk staring at me for most of the week. As Hierophants go, he seems friendly enough but he has this expectant look on his face, like he’s a teacher who’s just singled me out to answer a question I don’t know the answer to. Of course, he’s not going to tell me the answer – he wants me to work it out for myself. So for the last few days I’ve been thinking what he wants to know. And top of the list (our survey says) was: what do I believe?
We live in an age where many of us can pretty much choose what we believe in. Sometimes we just make stuff up and believe in that because we can and because it suits us to do so. I think I’ve done that about tarot. I’ve created (or copied from other sources) a set of rules about tarot that suit me. Rules such as, “the future isn’t set in stone and can’t be predicted with any accuracy” and “tarot cards aren’t magical; they’re just bits of mass-produced printed cardboard”. I have others along the same lines as this. Tarot isn’t mystical, yada yada yada.
I’ve been spreading these beliefs around like confetti at a wedding – here, on the DVD, in other things I’ve written. I’ve been stating them as if they’re facts, but the truth is I can’t prove any of them. Okay, fine, so as beliefs go they’re fairly tame but where did I get them from? If I’m honest, they sound suspiciously like cliches of our time. In fact, saying “the future isn’t set in stone” is becoming as ubiquitous and jaded now as “you mustn’t let others handle your cards” was 20 years ago. And if I don’t have any scientific proof, what justification can I have for making such statements. Isn’t it irresponsible of me?
The Hierophant is an orthodox fellow so he’s all about established belief systems. In Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack writes:
“The modern Western phenomenon of a kind of eclectic mysticism, drawing inspiration from all religions, is an extremely unusual development. This is based, possibly, on global awareness plus the view of religion as a psychological state divorced from science and history. Thus we see religion as an experience rather than an explanation of the universe and accept that all religious experiences are valid, whatever contradictions they show on the surface. While this idea opens great possibilities, many people have noted its potential shallowness.”
When we follow an established faith, our beliefs are frequently tested. We often find ourselves caught between what we want to do and what our faith instructs us to do. We struggle with rules that seem harsh or unfair. Our religion doesn’t always suit us. Yet, because of that, it challenges us. I’m not sure the same can be said for belief systems we forge ourselves. Because, if presented with a pick-and-mix selection of beliefs, doesn’t it make sense that we’d choose ones that make us feel most comfortable?
The truth is, deep down, I do believe tarot can predict the future because I’ve seen it happen. But the rational side of my brain does its darndest to bury that knowledge because it isn’t comfortable for me. It puts me in an awkward position. It makes me have to consider things I’d rather not consider – things like fate, destiny, free will, God, the afterlife, the soul. And if I start opening myself up to uncomfortable possiblities about tarot and life, I might have to confront other possibilities, such as the existence of aliens and the ultimate destruction of civilisation as we know it. You can see why I’d prefer to stick with my mass-produced pieces of printed cardboard.
If you’re still reading this, you’re probably starting to realise that it’s not going to go anywhere. I don’t have a neat conclusion; I don’t have a neat anything. This post has rambled a long way from where it began. I just wanted to finally nail down these thoughts that have been playing knock-down ginger on the firmly closed doorway of my mind. They interrupt my blissful ignorance then run away before I can grab them, but they leave me a little nervous. What if wrapping cards in silk does make a difference? What if tarot CAN predict the future? What if I’m wrong? What if everything I believe isn’t true?
I’m not saying those things are true either. Most questions about tarot and how it works (or IF it works) are unanswerable. We can theorise and conjecture and postulate and philosophize and use other big words that mean we don’t know but the truth is: we really don’t know.
Or maybe it’s just me who doesn’t know.
“The heart has reasons that reason cannot know.” When I use the tarot for anything–future reading, traveling, meditation–I simply know it is true, without analyzing it. You do the same. I’m a very skeptical person, and really find a lot of the goings-on around the tarot (the self-appointed tarot leaders, ancient Egyptians creating it, the need to buy expensive bags and “isolate” a deck, etc) pure BS. But surely we get past that, and find that the decks are a touchstone for something in us that simply works?
Probably expressing myself very badly, but I hope you know what I Mean.
I do know what you mean, absolutely. And I think you expressed yourself much better than I did… 😉
It is usually when I really need it, that I find tarot at its truest. It doesn’t always join in when I’m just playing games with it, but that’s okay because then it doesn’t have to.
I hate the BS too. Sometimes I think I BS too much myself.
I too like to de-mystify tarot, great article and comment.
Ironically for a tarot reader, I have a healthy dose of skepticism. I can feel myself recoiling from anything that feels too cliched, too trumped up, too New Ageish. In spite of that, the Tarot has always rung true for me.
I’ve had periods where all I’ve done is loose myself in the archetypes. Drawing a card a day, seeing my path in the Tarot and beyond.
In fact, relegating Tarot to just prognostication seems like a waste. I see myself in all the cards, sometimes bigger sections, sometimes smaller sections. Connecting to the Tarot archetypes has made me a richer person.
I tend to think of the Tarot like the Marcel Duchamp piece, The Fountain. It was from his ready-made collection and was an old urinal he found. When someone inquired how it was art, he said “Because I say it is.” (okay, I’m paraphrasing here but you get the idea).
Is self-belief an integral part of the Tarot working?