Cheap Shots #17: Tone vs. Substance

One complaint of the tarot novice that comes up quite often on the forums is “Nothing happened the way the cards said it would.” This is sometimes accompanied by a profound loss of faith that drives the discouraged neophyte away from the practice of divination entirely. Even the trite remark that “the cards weren’t wrong, your interpretation was” offers scant relief from  dampened expectations. Using the tarot solely for self-awareness and personal development is much less fraught with the twin landmines of  vague hopes and half-baked assumptions (although Jungian psychologists might disagree, since such pitfalls abound in the depths of the psyche as well), so there is a temptation to back away from event-based prognostication. The self-help community fully agrees with this “touchy-feely” path to enlightenment, finding little value in approaching more mundane matters through the cards. As a result, the time-honored art of card-based divination (aka “cartomancy”) has, for all practical purposes, been hijacked by the New Age zeitgeist.

After several decades of study and practice, I’ve come to the conclusion that trying to divine yes-or-no absolutes through cartomancy with any degree of reliability (“Will I meet the love of my life at the party next Saturday?”) amounts to an abuse of the art. Success is almost always serendipitous, and evidence to the contrary is largely anecdotal rather than empirical. Perceived accuracy in a reading can amount to nothing more prescient than a persuasive command of tone over substance. Asking “Am I in a good place emotionally to receive lasting love in the near future?” is more closely aligned with the nuanced story-telling strengths of the tarot than a bald-faced “Will I or won’t I . . . ?” There are much better tools for the latter: the Lenormand cards are more direct in their testimony, as are horary astrology, geomancy and other such literal techniques. Beating oneself over the head with the subtle, often slippery, multi-layered symbolism of tarot cards can be an exercise in frustration.

My current approach to divination with the tarot is to apply a “soft-focus” lens to my forays into prediction. The broad-brush analysis of future circumstances is a more satisfying way to prepare a client for eventualities than an iron-clad verdict. Saying that a tarot reading is about portents and possibilities, not certainties, isn’t an apology for lack of precision, it’s an acknowledgement of the fluidity of human experience. My favorite way to tackle this is by talking to my clients about situational awareness and developmental insight as inputs to informed decision-making. Spotting an emerging trend that can be profitably tapped is more useful to my querents than putting them on notice about an assumed event that may not occur as described, if at all.

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