Philosopher or Fortune-Teller?

In his excellent (although a bit “lite” for the seasoned esotericist) volume, The Tarot, History, Symbolism and Divination, Robert Place offers his definition of the best use for tarot:

“From its origin, the Tarot has been designed as a set of symbols or tools that the unconscious can use to communicate with the conscious mind. Instead of predicting the future, the cards work best when they are used to help create a more fulfilling future. Used in this way, tarot readings are healing and instructive.”

In my own Cartomancer’s Creed (previously posted), I make a similar case:

“The aim of cartomancy is empowerment. At its best, a card reading promotes self-understanding and provides the stimulus for positive change. It can also offer situational awareness for informed decision-making.”

The tarot community is roughly divided along the following lines. Serious students tend toward a philosophical approach, in which contemplation, meditation and personal readings are brought to bear on the objectives of attaining self-awareness and tapping inner wisdom. The more casual crowd uses tarot as a social medium, performing readings for the “entertainment” of family and friends. A small fraction have a foot in both camps; these are the professional readers who are thoroughly grounded in the history and deeper aspects of the tarot while also providing their well-honed divinatory skills to the general public.

Aleister Crowley, in my opinion one of the pre-eminent occultists of the last century, would never be accused of endorsing “fortune-telling.” But even the Master Therion acknowledged the utility of divination in coming to grips with the cards as “living individuals.”

The dedicated student of the cards “cannot reach any true appreciation of them without observing their behavior over a long period; he can only come to an understanding of the Tarot through experience. It will not be sufficient to intensify his studies of the cards as objective things; he must use them; he must live with them. They, too, must live with him. A card is not isolated from its fellows. The reactions of the cards, their interplay with each other, must be built into the very life of the student.

Then how is he to use them? How is he to blend their life with his? The ideal way is that of contemplation. But this requires initiation of such high degree that it is impossible to describe the method in this place. Nor is it either attractive or suitable to most people. The practical every-day commonplace way is divination.”

In an earlier section of the Book of Thoth, titled “The Cards of the Tarot as Living Beings,” Crowley made another assertion in the same vein:

“Each card is, in a sense, a living being; and its relations with its neighbors are what one might call diplomatic. It is for the student to build these living stones into his living Temple.”

All I can add from my four decades of study and practice with the tarot is “Precisely.”

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