Saving Tarot from Psychology

During a delightful presentation by Rachel Pollack at a regional tarot meeting on Saturday, the subject of fortune-telling came up. Rachel made the fascinating remark that back when she began reading for others over forty years ago, she was committed to saving tarot from the tarnish of fortune-telling, but now she is more inclined to attempt saving it from psychology. As I’ve probably made clear in numerous past posts, I have been promoting the same agenda for the last seven years, but it is encouraging to hear it coming from an internationally recognized tarot master.

I’m not going to repeat myself here; you can find an example of my opinion in this old post:

When I left active tarot practice, Jungian psychology had not yet infiltrated tarot to the extent that it had overwhelmed natal astrology. People were still more interested in what might happen than who they were as shown in the cards (what I call “psychological profiling”); in other words, the focus for most querents was more external than internal. I tended to fall back on psychological nuances when a more literal approach failed to connect with my sitter’s understanding of their circumstances. But I always tried to work it back around to the main point made by the practical testimony in the spread.

The consensus at the meeting was that tarot is best used to identify energy patterns or trends that may appear in the lives of our querents that can be capitalized on to make a meaningful difference in their future development. It isn’t so much deterministic as exploratory, and it’s goal is to give the querent ammunition to face down their personal demons. In other words, it’s a form of empowerment. Rachel gave us a list of every way she could think of that people have used the tarot, and “healing” and “saving lives” were included. These are more visceral uses than trying to construct a character analysis from the cards to satisfy the idle curiosity of a sitter who is interested in finding out whether someone else likes them. At its most pragmatic level, it is summarized in Rachel’s list entry: “Identifying threats or issues in a person’s life, and what to do about them.” In fact, “psychological profiling” or similar “psychic fishing expeditions” barely make a dent in her list, appearing only as “Spying” and “Discovering secrets – in others or yourself, or in the world.” In my opinion, asking the cards what someone else is likely to do in a particular situation is far more useful to a querent than pestering them about what that person may think or feel; it gives the client something concrete to watch for, whereas attempting to pin down someone’s current mental state via the cards resembles trying get a grip on a writhing snake. Those of you who have ever tried to hold one in your hands will know what I’m talking about. Thoughts and emotions are too ephemeral and slippery to submit to predictive certainty; actions, on the other hand, speak for themselves. As Bob Dylan once wrote: “You don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.”

I do feel that there is some common ground between tarot divination and psychology, since  I’ve assumed from the very beginning that tarot operates through a subconscious channel from the collective unconscious, both Jungian concepts.The ultimate source of whatever comes through from the unconscious is where it gets more abstract, requiring a deeper metaphysical explanation. Plato had one (“the soul of eternity”) in his definition of intuition as a form of precognition, and Joseph Maxwell had a comparably spiritual one (the Astral Plane). I have no problem with the architecture, it’s the use to which it is put that I find questionable. For me, astrology is a much better tool for psychological profiling (that is, trying to fathom someone’s state of mind). In past forum debates on the subject, some people have said that a state of mind is just a precursor to action, so both should be equally accessible to reading via the cards. It just seems too much like “psychic guesswork with props” to me.

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