Many of us remember the old Wendy’s TV commercials in which actress Clara Peller grumpily complained “Where’s the beef?” when handed a competitor’s burger. There is a parallel phenomenon in tarot divination that takes two different paths but eventually arrives at the same place. On-line reading exchanges offer a perfect vantage point for observing this at work.
The first case involves the psychological over-thinking of the cards in a spread, to the point that paragraphs of narrative are produced that yield a wealth of impressive-sounding but ultimately empty “hot air” and precious little “beef.” By the time the reading is done, it’s unclear whether the querent received anything of practical value, although there is often much head-nodding and effusive praise for the reader’s insight. The second case is more excusable: beginners usually cherry-pick ideas from their meager store of keywords and attempt to glue them together into a coherent narrative. This boils down to a rather thin gruel in story-telling terms, but it’s ideally a “training-wheels” scenario and not a long-term deficiency. My impression is that the rise of on-line reading, in which the reader has ample (and probably excessive) time to mull over the cards before responding exaggerates the tendency to over-analyze. I’ll take a “live one” sitting across the table from me any day, and I would much rather use story-telling tropes like metaphor and analogy than psychological jargon.
As a former psychological astrologer who has since seen the light and “regressed” into a more traditional predictive approach, I fully understand where the psychoanalytical impulse in tarot reading comes from. It’s clearly rooted in the ideas of Carl Gustav Jung and the modern “self-help” industry. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but I don’t see it as a strength of the cartomantic method, which I employ more for examining external situations and developments than for psychological profiling.
One of the major contributors to this alluring pseudo-scientific pursuit is the presence of scenic images on the “pip” cards that suggest ready-made narrative vignettes. They encourage extending the more rarefied archetypal assumptions attached to the trump cards into the realm of day-to-day affairs usually reserved for the small cards of the tarot. In many cases they undermine the more fundamental interpretation of a card by enticing the reader to contemplate what the people in the scenes are doing and why, to the possible detriment of what the querent really needs to hear. I consider it a form of ideological hijacking that can significantly downplay a card’s more literal expression .
It’s probably fair to say that there is frequently “more sizzle than steak” in this kind of interpretation. Trying to force-fit the activities shown in the images to the querent’s reality can become a major stumbling block to lucid comprehension of the message. My main quarrel in this regard is with the Sixes of the Waite-Smith deck, but there are other less egregious examples. It’s this inherent weakness of narrative scenes on the Minor Arcana that is pushing me into learning to read with the Tarot de Marseille as a logical outgrowth of my decades of work with the Thoth deck and its “glorified pip” cards. There just seems to be less extraneous “fluff” and more of an “unvarnished truth” feel to it.