The Ringmaster Speaks

While digging through on-line interview material looking for videos by Enrique Enriquez, I came across a quote of his that put something into perspective for me.

“The first metaphor in tarot happens when we shuffle the tarot. There is a carnivalesque stance in this debasement of hierarchies. I associate this with sabotaging reality. Shuffling the deck sabotages the order of the cards just as we, by shuffling the cards, hope to alter our understanding of reality. Sabotage can be paired with irrationality. There is something irrational in expecting anything from pieces of cardboard. Irrationality, then, becomes subversive, as it transcends our convention of what is “there”. At this level, notions like “The Fool”, or “The Pope” are useful only as far as they suggest a structure that our shuffling puts into question.”

Several years ago I began using the phrase “the theater of tarot” to describe some of the conventions we use while conducting face-to-face readings, a kind of “performance art” that draws our sitters into the transcendent mood Enriquez is talking about. The term “carnivalesque” captures my thought precisely. I’ve been pooh-poohed by cartomantic  purists for these notions, so it’s nice to see some validation of the concept. The idea of a carnival brings to mind that of the “ringmaster” who controls the presentation and flow of the acts in a traditional circus. I paraphrased the following description from Wikipedia:

“A ringmaster introduces the various acts in a circus show and guides the audience through the experience, directing their attention to the various areas of the circus arena and helping to link the acts together  . . . to make (them) part of a seamless circus performance.”

If the cards in a spread are seen as a procession, it’s not too much of an imaginative leap to see the reader as the master-of-ceremonies who ushers them into the ring and engages the audience in synthesizing their unique routines. We might think of the cards as representing irrational (or how about “supra-rational?”) illusions that conceal threads of the truth, and our role as interpreters is to tease out just the right ones to fit the context of the reading. The Fool is therefore not necessarily a “foolish person” or “clown” under the “Big Top” of our personal burlesque (although it can be) but an abstract expression of both irresponsibility and freedom from obligation.

Like any good form of entertainment, a circus takes us out of ourselves for a time and allows us to participate, if only vicariously, in an altered state of  reality. A carnival, because of its slight whiff of the seamy and macabre, is perhaps closer to the “gypsy heart” that fortune-telling has always carried in its bosom, even as we – the post-Jungian custodians of the tarot –  strive mightily to scrub it of that perceived taint. Enriquez is suggesting that it’s perfectly fine – necessary, even – to allow irrationality to sabotage those efforts, subverting and debasing their orderly assumptions. More and more, I like the way this man thinks.

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