“Just the facts, Ma’am.”
In this post-modern era of do-it-yourself psychological profiling, I firmly believe that what the practice of tarot needs is more Sgt. Joe Friday and less Dr. Phil, less “woo” and more interpretive “glue” binding our card-by-card analyses together with a minimum of intuitive guesswork between the lines.
We probably have British astrologer Alan Leo and psychologist Carl Gustav Jung to thank for the present state of affairs. Leo – rightly or wrongly – has been credited with single-handedly creating the “character analysis” model of astrological divination. He was charged with and eventually convicted of “unlawfully pretending to tell fortunes” with astrology, despite adopting the stance that all he did was explore “tendencies:”
“Let us part company with the fatalistic astrologer who prides himself on his predictions and who is ever seeking to convince the world that in the predictive side of Astrology alone shall we find its value. We need not argue the point as to its reality, but instead make a much-needed change in the word and call Astrology the science of tendencies.”
For his part, Jung has been trotted out to legitimize almost any random wrinkle in the fabric of New Age prognostication. This led to the “psychologizing” of natal astrology in the 1970s, and soon caught up to tarot as well. That trend in turn brought the proliferation of “thinks or feels” questions into vogue, a kind of “Dear Abby with cards.” If all a reader does is attempt to read the mind of an absent third party and not advise the seeker how to physically or emotionally react to that individual’s putative affections or antipathies, there can be no whiff of deterministic impropriety. “For entertainment only,” indeed.
Aleister Crowley, despite the profound scientific rationalism underlying his mysticism, didn’t help matters much with his assessment of “moral characteristics” – basically psychological thumbnails for the court cards – in Part Three of The Book of Thoth. While his character portraits are some of the more useful court-card snapshots in print, they are frequently more abstract than pragmatic. I don’t necessarily care whether Fred is “proud, impulsive and swift,” what is he going to do about that dent I just put in his car?
I have been beating the drum for a “situational awareness and developmental insight” approach to reading the cards. This is necessarily an “action-and-event-oriented” model of the cartomantic universe, not aimed at satisfying idle curiosity about how someone “thinks or feels” but rather getting down to the root of motivational urges and adaptive responses in a situation. As long as we give it half a chance, tarot is admirably suited to this purpose, right up there with Lenormand as an effective tool for pursuing practical answers.
I think I’ll have a bumper sticker made that says “Less Woo, More Glue!” I’ll put it right next to the “HRU is My Muse” sticker I received with the Tabula Mundi Colores Arcus deck. That will befuddle the locals.