Spiritually, I tend to define myself by what I’m not: that is, not religious in any conventional, monotheistic sense. Not Christian, Jewish or Muslim (although my ancestry is almost certainly Middle Eastern by way of southern Germany), not Hindu and not Buddhist (although Buddhism definitely has its appeal). After reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, I discovered in myself an appreciation for pantheism; however, not of the Spinozan strain since he retained the concept of a personal God as an immanent presence in place of the paternalistic external deity of tradition. As I’ve mentioned before, human beings have a penchant for personalizing abstract considerations by giving them a name and a face – God and Satan are two fundamental examples – and placing them in a neat dualistic box so the layman doesn’t have to think too hard about their messy epistemological implications. But any hint of divine or infernal anthropomorphism necessarily rings false when the idea of subtle, impersonal forces at work beneath the surface of material existence has far more appeal to both the rational and mystical mind. One of these major currents, described in purely human terms as “good,” promotes harmony and wholeness, while the other – nominally “evil” – stream instigates disruption and fragmentation. Although modern physicists ensure us that the Universe tilts naturally toward chaos, there does seem to be a metaphysical “glue” holding reality together at more than the mundane level of subatomic bonding. Its pervasiveness within the substance of all things is the influence behind the phenomena of evolution and devolution, symbolic of both advancement and atrophy. It strikes me that Aleister Crowley made much of this idea with his “formula:” Change equals stability; stability equals change.
Those spiritual seekers who achieve philosophical balance and coherence in their lives frequently exemplify what is represented as the “Light,” while those who encounter crippling turmoil and instability are prone to succumb to the “Dark,” often in desperation. These qualities are not merely the ethical or moral consequences of conscious choice, they are qualities of the fabric of one’s private reality that emerge when one subconsciously cultivates the prerequisites for their realization. It reminds me of the contrasting definitions of temperament and character: the former is innate at birth, while the latter is the result of learned behavior; this is not to say that anyone is “born bad,” just that there may be a proclivity for such an unhappy development, especially if reinforced by experience. Divination – and especially the tarot – allows the reader to comb the fiber of this personal universe for hints of the interplay of light and darkness in the querent’s personality and, by extension, destiny. I don’t subscribe to the notion that there are no inherently “good” or “bad” cards, but the benevolent or malevolent expression of their nature often depends upon the context of the matter at hand: a “good” card in one case may not portend the most fortunate experience in another, and vice versa. I’m more inclined to agree with James Ricklef that there are no entirely good or bad cards, only necessary ones, but the imperatives they imply may not always be the most congenial.
File this one under my collection of “how tarot works” essays.