Journals, Good Intentions and the Road to Hell

The aphorism I’m referring to in the title is “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” to which, in the present context, I would append “. . . and littered with musty old tarot journals.” It’s a given that modern writers on “how to learn the tarot” will unanimously recommend that new students religiously record every burp, fart and hiccup emitted by their cards during the course of their early practice. The idea is to firmly cement knowledge of the cards’ core meanings and instructive examples of their interaction into the memory, but the sheer amount of secretarial labor can easily dwarf any long-term benefit. Over the course of my four-plus decades of tarot study and practice, I’ve made a few attempts at keeping a journal, some enthusiastic and ambitious, others (the later ones) more desultory. I can say without hesitation that I’ve seldom gone back and looked at even one of them. They become like flies trapped in amber: interesting archaeological artifacts with little practical reason for being. Even as a device for training the mind, their utility is suspect.

I would submit that a student with even a moderately capacious and retentive memory can in short order build within it a framework of general knowledge on which choice tidbits of more specific information can be hung like tools on a shed wall. That detail can then be summoned through visual cues, mnemonic hooks or other associative recall mechanisms (personally, I like metaphors) during the course of a reading. I’ve previously mentioned the anecdote about the dermatologist I visited who, when talking about my diagnosis, went into her office and fetched a college textbook to back up her observations. Not a confidence-builder for the patient.  Imagine a tarot reader who rummages through old notebooks looking for just the right turn of phrase. Keeping meticulous notes may not take you straight to Hell, but it might very well deliver you to a gray Purgatory of fossilized words that you will eventually have to dig yourself out of.

As to how one might best build that internal framework of cross-connected knowledge, Aleister Crowley said it with great precision in describing the proper relationship between the student and the cards:

“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”

Rather than pursuing a master/slave relationship in which you whip the wayward servant into submission with your pen (or keyboard), make it a robust dialogue that leaves memorable traces of inner wisdom in its wake.

For the record, I’m not saying don’t indulge in journaling; if you absolutely need that kind of crutch, knock yourself out! Just don’t do it because some authority told you to. And be certain you’re comfortable with the amount of work you’ll be putting into it for what you’re likely to get back in the way of value. To mangle Lewis Carroll, “Tediouser and tediouser,” said Alice.

4 thoughts on “Journals, Good Intentions and the Road to Hell

  1. thank you for pulling no punches. i think you are spot on. and you have a great way with words 😄😄😄
    i must admit that i am a tarot journaler though. not the kind you mention here, but one who likes to write down the story the cards are telling her, only incidentally looking up a meaning in the guidebook to see if it adds anything to the messages i have already been able to ‘extract’. that’s why i think journaling about individual cards makes no sense, because i find they mean different things in different readings and in different combinations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The myth of having to learn off a 78-page packet of meanings is simply that: a myth. Taking the suits-and-numbers approach, one studies the nature of the suit – and there are only 4, so hardly challenging – and the numerological (or symbolic) properties of the numbers 1-10, again, not exactly taxing on the brain – and then combine those to suit the cards drawn and voila.

    Maybe not the most satisfactory long-term strategy but certainly one accessible and suitable for beginners and seasoned veterans alike. Plus it lays a solid foundation for further expansion gained from personal experience or deeper study.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is essentially how I started out with the Thoth deck back in 1972, and how I still read the cards today, although my vocabulary has expanded to include other correspondences as needed (astrological, qabalistic, mythological, cultural, etc.)


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