Jung vs. Tarot: Intuition or Inspiration?

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that I favor proficient knowledge-based reading leavened by impromptu flashes of illumination that typically invoke heightened sensitivity. Conversely, I have a distrust of total reliance on speculative guesswork (more commonly known as “intuition”) when it comes to tarot interpretation. My suspicion is that unsupported hunches too often serve as a convenient replacement for structured learning and preparation, and sitters never know they’re being finessed. Such extemporizing  can deliver an over-abundance of uncritical “Cups” whimsy and insufficient “Swords” clarity, “Pentacles” firmness and “Wands” intensity. Whatever we may think of it, the canonical “wisdom of the ages” is not entirely irrelevant; ideally, it provides the underlying framework that we clothe with more topic-driven substance. But it isn’t my purpose here to beat that particular dead horse.

In thinking of Jung’s four psychological functions – intuition, emotion, intellect and sensation – I get the distinct impression that tarot writers assigned the fiery suit of Wands to intuition only because everything else was taken: watery Cups are clearly emotion, airy Swords can only be intellect and Pentacles, as Earth, most certainly embody the realm of sensation. I personally don’t believe that Jung’s four-fold theory is a perfect fit for the tarot, but we still feel compelled to shoehorn it into our interpretive model. For example, many writers justifiably consider Wands to represent sexual energy, but I can’t see that sexual enthusiasm and intuitive perception dovetail seamlessly despite the mental gymnastics that have been performed to make it seem credible. How often do we succumb to intemperate sexual compulsions that defy all sense, common or otherwise? It seems to me that instinctive intelligence does not function reliably below the waist.

The Fire of Wands, while it also doubles as Spirit, isn’t markedly reflective or contemplative, two qualities of a “quiet mind” that would seem to be necessary for lucid intuitive comprehension. Intuition is inherently responsive and inferential, while Fire is assertive and egocentric to a fault; it’s a case of holistic relativism versus the “one-track-mind.” In modern practice, purely subjective impressions can override more objectively plausible ones when the intuition is given too free a rein. I prefer to toss out “intuition” in this context and replace it with “inspiration;” where intuition is passive, resembling a vessel waiting to be filled, inspiration connotes the active influx of galvanizing insight that instills a sense of purpose in addition to spontaneous awareness. Intuition and psychic sensitivity dip from the same subliminal well, while inspiration suggests an origin in the superconscious, for which the subconscious is only a channel and not the source. I’m convinced that it’s more than semantic hair-splitting to draw a distinction between the two.

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